Astronomical Imaging – Some notes on useful software

1. Lunar and Planetary Imaging with a video camera.

This is the easiest form of imaging after simple “point camera at sky”. The video camera may be a webcam, a dedicated astronomical version of a webcam (eg. Celestron Nextimage, Orion Starshoot, Meade LPI) or a DSLR camera with video capability.

Use software supplied with camera to capture video sequence (usually an .avi file). As a minimum use Registax to select and stack avi frames to create a still image and process that in an image-processing program such as PSP, GIMP or Photoshop. The following gives a more complete list of software that may be of use. Email any questions to

  • PIPP [Planetary Image Pre-Processor] Free. Used for cropping and centering objects in video, sorting frames by quality (better than Registax), Stitching videos, creating video from stills etc.
  • AUTOSTAKKERT. Free. A more automated stacking program. For planetary, lunar and solar stacking.
  • REGISTAX. Selects, registers and combines frames of video or multiple image files
  • BACKYARD EOS /Nikon – £35. Complete control and image preview with Canon and Nikon DSLRs via a laptop.
  • DSLR Controller (Android) – £6. Control of camera via an Android phone /tablet. The image is displayed on the phone and can be zoomed etc.

2. Deep-sky imaging using a DSLR or a CCD camera

The main differences between use of these two camera types are firstly that DSLRs are colour cameras while CCD cameras are either colour or mono, being used with a filter wheel in the latter case. Secondly in a CCD camera the sensor is cooled to reduce the noise built up during long exposure times. The long exposures required for deep sky imaging are normally obtained by stacking multiple shorter exposures. Long exposure also normally requires that the telescope mount is guided by means of a second guide camera and associated guiding software. Finally, the individual image frames may be “calibrated” using bias frames, dark frames and flat-field frames created separately.

  • MAXIM DL £££ is an integrated set of astro-imaging tools including camera control (both imaging and guide camera), filter wheel control, mount control for guiding, calibrating the raw images, stacking multiple images, converting mono filtered images to colour and plenty of subsequent processing functions. Expensive.
  • ASTROART performs most of the functions listed above for Maxim DL, but perhaps less comprehensively. Price 129 Euros.
  • PHD Guiding – designed to be “Push Here Dummy” simple, yet provides powerful, intelligent auto-guiding of your telescope for both PCs and Macs. Connect your mount and your guide camera, select a star and start guiding. Free.
  • DEEP SKY STACKER ££ DeepSkyStacker simplifies all the pre-processing steps of deep sky pictures. Performs calibration, registering / stacking and simple post-stacking processes. Free.
Additional Useful Software resources
  • PIXINSIGHT – £180. Advanced astronomical processing software.
  • CCD CALCULATOR , enables you to understand Image Scale and Field of View of your setup. If your telescope / camera is not in the menu, you can create your own entries.
  • CARTES DU CIEL/SKYCHART.This program enables you to view sky charts, making use of the data in many catalogues of stars and nebulae. In addition the position of planets, asteroids and comets are shown.
  • EQMOD � is a popular set of software tools used by many astronomers to control the Skywatcher HEQ5, NEQ6 and other mounts directly from a PC, enabling control of the mount using a gamepad amongst other features. Free but an inexpensive special connector is generally needed.
  • BAHTINOV GRABBER � Enables measurement of focus accuracy when using a Bahtinov Mask.
  • ALSRETICULE � this allows you to perform star alignments using your Astro camera and it also allows you to line up your image from one night to the next. This tool places a red reticule overlay on your desktop. It’s free to download, see links below.needs NET framework files to be up to date.
  • FITS LIBERATOR– The ESA/ESO/NASA FITS (Flexible Image Transport System) Liberator is a free software program for stretching astronomical data in the FITS format.
  • TEAM VIEWER or TightVNC – either of these enable control of one computer from another provided each has a WiFi connection. Control your cameras and telescope while sitting in the warm. Free for personal users. TEAM VIEWER goes via the Internet but TightVNC works within the WiFi (or via the Internet)

3. Software for subsequent processing of all types of astro-images

  • PHOTOSHOP £££ The premier Software for organising, editing and publish your images. Enables stretching , noise reduction, gradient removal etc. of your images plus combining of images through different filters. Very expensive but recently a free version was available from this site
  • PAINTSHOP PRO [PSP] – ~£50. Good budget image processing software. Look out for offers!
  • TOPAZ CLARITY – £29, and TOPAZ DENOISE – £49. Great PSP/Photoshop plugins for improving images.

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