Imaging the Moon


Camcorder footage of the Moon viewed in real time conveys a striking sense of actually viewing through the telescope eyepiece. The viewer is using the same cerebral processing to make sense of the lunar landscape as in a real observation, as atmospheric shimmering distorts the view and the eye fixes upon individual objects to attempt to make out the fine detail. A high magnification camcorder sweep along the Moon’s terminator, taken under good seeing conditions using a well-aligned driven telescope and slow motion controls, enables the viewer to experience the grandeur of the Moon in a way that viewing still photographs cannot convey. It is possible to produce a wonderful tour of the Moon and its terminator, taking time to linger over features of interest and zoom in on them. Such footage makes a fantastic presentation at any astronomical society meeting – but think twice before showing all of your hard-won lunar camcorder footage to visitors and relatives, as they may not appreciate half an hour of wandering around the crater-crowded southern uplands as much as you!

Camcorders have fixed lenses, and lunar footage must be obtained afocally through the telescope eyepiece. The same problems that affect afocal imaging using conventional film cameras and digicams apply to camcorders. Camcorders tend to be somewhat heavier than digicams, and it is essential that the camcorder is coupled to the telescope eyepiece as sturdily as possible. Some of the same equipment designed to hold digicams in place when taking afocal lunar images can be used to secure a lightweight camcorder.

Digital camcorders are the lightest and most versatile camcorders, and their images can be easily transferred to a computer for digital editing using the same techniques as images obtained with a webcam (see below). Once downloaded onto a computer, individual frames from digital video footage can be sampled individually (at low resolution), stacked using special software to produce detailed, high resolution images, or assembled into clips that can be transferred to a CD-ROM, DVD or videotape. The process can be time consuming – the time spent running through the video footage and processing the images can amount to far longer than the time that was actually spent taking the footage. Digital video editing also consumes a great deal of a computer’s resources, in both terms of memory and storage space – the faster a computer’s CPUs and graphics card, the better. For basic editing of short video clips, at least 5 gigabytes require to be free on your computer’s hard drive.