Advanced Observing Program at Kitt Peak Visitor Center
(Overnight Program)

The Advanced Observing Program is a public program in which participants use the high-tech resources of the Kitt Peak Visitor Center Observatories to explore the Universe. Don’t miss our images!

New CCD Images!
Quick Rate Info
  • CCD Imaging: $650/night, up to 2 people
  • Visual and Webcam DLSR: $550/night, up to 2 people
  • $90/night/person, room and board, single occupancy (includes 3 meals)
  • $75/night/person, double occupancy

CCD Imaging

The following information is designed to help those individuals who wish to devise their own observing schedule and target list. You are more than welcome to come to the observatory with nothing more than just “wanting to see anything.” We will recommend and image everything from planets to other galaxies! Otherwise, if you have particular objects in mind you may refer to the information below to help create and order your target list.

Basic Information

Configurations using the STL-6303E CCD camera
(3072 x 2048 pixels, 9μ pixels)

Observatory Visitor Center Observatory Roll Off Roof Observatory
Telescope RC Optical Systems
20in RC
Takahashi FSQ 106 RC Optical Systems
16in RC
Focal Length (mm)
Field of View
22’ x 15’
155’ x 103’
28’ x 18’
97’ x 65’

Things to Consider

Will my object fit?

From the table above you can determine the configuration necessary to fit your target on to the chip of the CCD camera. Often, guests will put objects on their “wish list” like:

Unfortunately these targets are too large in angular size to fit on the chip in a single exposure through the RC reflectors. It is possible to create mosaics, but bear in mind that such a project would take a good portion (if not all) of the night to complete. The Takahashi and TEC refractors do have large enough fields of view get complete (or mostly complete) images of these objects.

My plan is to take many pretty pictures. How many images can I expect to bring home?

CCD cameras and greater understanding of image processing has re-defined what a “pretty picture” truly is. To go home with the image quality currently on display in our Best Images of the AOP gallery, expect a few high-quality images rather than many poor quality images. Quality takes time. The more time invested in an image, the better it will be, even to the point of taking all night for a single picture.

Black and white images of targets are generally the sum of many “short” (300 second) exposures. Color images are generally created using a technique called LRGB imagery, where color information is added to a black and white image (the “L”) by taking red, green, and blue filtered images. Generally the L component is a high resolution and “deep” exposure.

Shown below is an example for M51:

Click on the image to see the full resolution image. This image is the sum of 10 five minute exposures.

Below are the low resolution color components:

RED: 20 minutes GREEN: 20 minutes BLUE: 40 minutes

Scroll across to see all three images. Note that it is only when the images are combined that the color information is mapped as red, green, and blue pixels. Thus the total integration time for this exposure was 130 minutes! This image also represents one of the best of its type in the world. Click HERE to see the final color production of this image.

When setup, guide star acquisition, focus and image centering is performed in addition to the total exposure time, a black & white image takes between 20-45 minutes to make, and an LRGB image takes about an hour to 90 minutes to complete. We have access to advanced data reduction software; cleaning up your final image can take up to an hour.

On average, perhaps 2 to 4 high quality LRGB images can be completed on a given night. Keep in mind that most amateur astronomers that take pictures in this way would spend an entire session on a single target, and then process the image later. We hope to do much more, taking many images of several targets, then combining them and cleaning them before sunrise!

Color images are quite an investment in time. Why?

The filter wheels on our CCD cameras allow us to take broad or narrow band images of a target. In order to get a full color image, we have to take at least one image with each of the Red, Green and Blue filters. All three of these images must be taken in addition to the unfiltered “black and white” exposures. Then, all these images must be combined to make the final color image.

How are dark frames handled?

Dark frames are taken at the telescope on your night. It has been found that a library of master darks would be impossible to create and maintain. On a normal night the time devoted to dark frames is less than 30 minutes. As a last resort, morning twilight can be used to create darks, but this is risky since all image combining would be delayed until that time.

How are flat field images created?

Flat fields are now mandatory calibration images for almost all images. Flats are needed to remove vignetting and chip artifacts (dust, gradients etc). Since the orientation of the CCD camera is constantly changing to accomodate target guide stars, almost every target requires a new flat field image. Flats are created by illuminating the inside of the observatory dome with a standard white flashlight or incandescent light bulb. Exposure times range between 3-30 seconds, and applying the flat to your images is done simultaneously with dark subtraction.

Although CCD imaging takes considerable patience, the rewards are well worth it - take a look at some of the recent CCD images guests have taken in our Observers' CCD Archive.