Who's soul isn't stirred on a warm summer's eve while the stars and planets dance overhead? Gee, if only you could capture and hold onto that moment. Well, if you have a telescope and a discarded 2 to 4 megapixel digital camera, then you're already halfway there--halfway towards owning and operating one of the premiere cameras used in astrophotography; the CCD or Charge-Coupled Device astronomy camera.
Starting at prices of over $400 and typically costing more than $1,000, these professional-grade CCD cameras are the ideal tool for snapping pix of distant nebulae or grabbing a memorable Martian moment. Remarkably, beating inside almost every advanced amateur digital camera is a CCD heart.
You can resuscitate your old discarded digital camera and repurpose it as a kick-ass CCD astro-cam--dubbed myCCD. Most DIY CCD builders opt for converting Webcams into viable astro-cams. While these CCD Webcams are a wonderful project for those who use a telescope that is tethered to a personal computer, for the rest of us, we prefer to do our celestial viewing au naturel; unencumbered by computers, power cords, and distracting operating system glitches. Just warming our souls on distant starlight radiating from a CCD through an LCD inside myCCD.
Step 1: How to Make MyCCD
Time: 16 hours
Difficulty: Moderately Hard, but Incredibly Delicate and Detailed
A used "Spanish edition" Konica Minolta DiMage Z2 digital camera was used for this project.
- A Discarded 2-4MP Digital Camera in Working Order Equipped with a CCD Sensor (FREE; or, B&H Photo/Video is a source for purchasing used digital cameras)
- RadioShack 1 3/8" Insulated Alligator Clips (270-1545; $3.49)
- RadioShack "AA" Battery Holder (270-409; $1.89)
- 30mm Square Thermoelectric Heat Pump Peltier Junction (All Electronics PJT-5; $9.75)
- Heat Sink (All Electronics HS-141; $.65)
- RadioShack SPST Switch (275-0406; $2.49)
- 4 "AA" Rechargeable NiMH 2100mAh Batteries
- 9V Battery
Step 2: Open Âer Up
Easier said, than done. You must find all of the screws that are holding the exterior case halves together. Some screws might be hidden underneath a piece of exterior trim. As you remove 'em, thoroughly document where every screw is located.
Step 3: Poke It's Eye Out
Once you've gained access inside your digital camera, you must disconnect and remove the lens assembly. In most digital cameras, you must retain the lens and leave it connected to the camera--dangling on the outside of the camera. And that's where myCCD can get physically ugly. Most digital cameras need the lens for the proper execution of the camera's startup sequence. Basically, the camera "expects" to receive some feedback from the lens (e.g., did the lens extend, is the shutter OK, is the aperture OK, etc.). Without this feedback, the camera goes stupid and becomes a brick. So remove the lens, but keep it attached to the camera.
Step 4: Chill This Martini
Step 5: Power to the People
Another source of unwanted heat in a digital camera comes from the on-board battery pack. Just relocate the batteries outside the digital camera and enjoy a significant reduction in heat.
Step 6: The Universe Is Your Oyster
Wishing you clear skies and a cool CCD camera on the cheap.