Thanks to the advancements in space technology, keeping an eye on the different space rocks such as asteroids, meteors and comets has become a lot easier for the amateur astronomer. It is now a lot easier to search the skies in order to discover new space rocks and track their movements. Modern space technology has given the amateur a lot of accurate ways in which to locate and track the objects. It’s things like CCD (Charged Coupled Device), digital cameras with telescope mounts, some computer controlled telescope tripods and software that will analyze the CCD images that make tracking the objects so much easier.
To start your search you can set up your telescope up in a location that is safe and where it can stay put for at least one month at a time. You will need to make sure that your telescope is sheltered somehow if you don’t have it sent up in a tent or another enclosed area. Once you have it set up you will then want to align it to Polaris or the North Star.
You can further align your telescope by using the “Drift Star Polar Alignment” technique. This is the final alignment and is going to prevent any stationary objects in the sky from “movement” in your other captured images.
After you have done all of this you will need to mount your digital CCD camera to the eyepiece of the lens of your telescope. Tighten it down on all of it’s connections very firmly to prevent it from moving accidentally.
Next you will point your telescope toward the area of night sky that you want to monitor for any meteors, comets or asteroids. After you have your location set you should never move, jar or bump your telescope. You should try and take a 30 second image every night and make sure that it is at the same time each night by activating your digital CCD. If you have it on longer exposures you could make the objects look like streaks and not bright points of light.
At the end of the month you can download the images from that 30 days onto your computer so you can process them. Do this without disturbing the position that you have your telescope and camera in. This is of course if you are planning on keeping your equipment in the same place for another 30 day time period.
Take the photos and process them using a photo editing software program that you should already have installed on your computer. You might want to use the lasso tool to drag your mouse across a few inches of the black areas of your photos while you hold down on the left mouse button and this will select all of the black areas. Do this with all of your photos.
You can then convert all of the black areas to transparency. You then can save you photos by naming them and putting them in the PNG format because it handles and preserves transparent layers on photos whereas JPEG won’t.
Now create a new image with a black background and it should be the same size as all your modified images. So, if your modified images are 600 pixels wide by 400 pixels high then your new image needs to be the same size. After you have done this, open up each of the images you may have modified, one at a time. You will right click on the image, copy and then paste into the new image. You will do this with all your transparent images, stacking them on top of each other.
This will allow you to analyze the different movements of the comets, meteorites or asteroids that will appear in your images. The movement of these objects will appear as straight dotted lines and all the other objects will just be single bright dots. You can then save the entire image with all the layers on it as a PNG file so you can use it to compare to the next months set of images.