Electronically Assisted Astronomy (EAA)

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What is EAA?

Astrophotography 101

Most people are familiar with astrophotography or can figure out what it means from the name alone; attaching a camera to a telescope and taking images of targets in the sky. For anyone without a friend or personal connection to it, it's often summarized as a complex and expensive the hobby. It involves the precision capture of data for hours followed by sometimes hours of post processing to model and subtract the imperfections in your equipment as well as running what amount to statistical algorithms to improve the data by removing noise etc, while being careful not to add any false data. It requires skills with computers, photography, and astronomy.

Electronically Assisted Astronomy (EAA)

In EAA you also use a camera and telescope to capture an image, but you only employ some of the most basic astrophotography concepts and it's done in near real time to enhance the image before displaying it.

Some EAA scopes display this final image in an eyepiece on the telscope making you feel like you're doing regular direct viewing through a scope, but with a bionic eye for enhanced color and detail. Others have no fake eyepiece and display the image on your device.

The main technique used in the image improvement is called live stacking. Stacking, by itself, is the process of combining multiple images of the same target to increase the Signal to Noise Ratio (SNR) for a nicer final image. The algorithms behind stacking can recognize and remove some noise and anamolies like satellites without harming the stars/nebula etc you are imaging.

Live stacking is the process of repeatedly applying one new frame at a time to the stack as they are captured and updating the image as you go. This slowly improves the image you're viewing the longer you allow it to continue.

Most EAA enthusiasts stop there and do not perform any of the post processing enhancements used in traditional astrophotography. They aren't necessarily looking to have a final product that is the best and cleanest image they can possibly acquire, but instead they prioritize time and just want the best image they can acquire in under 30 minutes. As a result, EAA is sometimes considered a part of "visual astronomy" since you don't intend to do anything to improve the data after the single viewing session.

EAA's popularity

Some years ago a few (expensive) telescopes were being sold that looked like traditional refractors, but which used an eyepiece augmented with a tiny screen. These had some built-in smarts to capture an image with a camera sensor, employ some basic astrophotography techniques, and then display it in the augmented eyepiece. This gave you the experience of directly viewing deep sky objects with an eye as sensitive as a camera, bringing out much more detail and color than the "gray fuzzies" we're used to seeing in an unaided telescope.

A few years later new devices emerged at a much cheaper price point (~1/10th the price) with slightly smaller optics, but with just as good built-in smarts that were extremely portable and user friendly like the ZWO SeeStar or Dwarf Labs DWARF II. Simply set it down, tell it to automatically align itself to the sky, and you can start telling it to go to targets and capture images within minutes. These display the images on your phone/tablet/computer instead of an eyepiece.

The price and ease of use makes them excellent for outreach events, younger astronomy enthusiasts, and those who don't always have time to do a full night's astrophotograpy session.

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