Advanced Observing Program at Kitt Peak Visitor Center
Visual Observations and DSLR Imaging
One of the ideas we stress during the earlier Nightly Observing Program (NOP) is how insensitive human eyes are for observing at low light levels, such as through a telescope. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, our eyes are adapted to see well during the day, but they do not function nearly as well at night. Guests don't need an elaborate explanation to understand this; a first look through the telescope is enough. In fact, we often find that guests who have never looked through a telescope either have very high or low expectations about what they will see. It's a rare guest that jumps up and down with their first look at a galaxy. Our eyes just aren't good enough to see the kind of faint detail obtained with a long-exposure digital image. However, if most people had looked through a smaller telescope from a brighter site before looking through one of our large telescopes under the dark skies of Kitt Peak, the difference would be dramatic. You really cannot get much better views than what we offer.
The Visitor Center observatories have a fairly complete set of eyepieces (and filters when necessary). However, if you own high quality optics, you are more than welcome to bring these with you for use at the telescope.
Remember the NOP lasts 3 to 3.5 hours after sunset. During this time you are invited to participate and enjoy the visual observations through binoculars and the telescope as long as there is space in the program. Sometimes specific objects you may want to see will set shortly after the NOP, so join the crowd to take advantage of the opportunity to look through the telescope at these objects.
Try to exercise patience when looking through the telescope and trust your eyes. Unfamiliar observing techniques like using "averted vision" take practice but are well worth the effort. Ask your guide to describe how to use "averted vision" effectively. Also, your guide can describe noteworthy details about a target, which will make the experience more rewarding and memorable.
"DSLR" stands for Digital Single Lens Reflex and describes the type of digital camera used in our Advanced Observing Program to take single-exposure, full-color digital images. If you wish to combine visual observations with DSLR imaging, keep in mind that when the camera is on the telescope you cannot look through that telescope with your eye. However, we often use a setup with an eyepiece mounted on a smaller finder telescope while the camera is on the large telescope or vice versa depending on the field of view desired in the digital images. Furthermore, setting up an instrument like a DSLR camera requires some adjustments and calibration. In order to maximize your observing time, it's best to keep the same camera setup the whole night. If you must change the configuration, then try to minimize those switches by planning out an observing program with your guide. Although DSLR imaging takes some patience (exposure times can be as long as 10 minutes), the rewards are well worth it - take a look at some of the recent DSLR images guests have taken home with them in our Observers' Digital Archive.