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Digital Telescopes and Their Electronics

October 17, 2023

Capturing and Unlocking the Universe, One Picture at a Time

There’s a Keystone in every great invention.

From an early age, we are constantly in awe of the light shows and presentations the night skies provide. The universe has captivated the imaginations and curiosity of humanity from the ancient astronomers peering at full moons and the stars to modern scientists studying distant galaxies. The quest to understand the cosmos has driven the development of increasingly sophisticated instruments. In recent decades, a remarkable technological advancement has revolutionized our ability to explore the universe - digital telescopes. These high-tech marvels have brought the stars, planets, and galaxies closer than ever before, opening new frontiers in astronomy and our understanding of the cosmos.


From Glass to Pixels: The Evolution of Telescopes

Telescopes have come a long way since their inception. While many claims can be made for credit on the invention of the first telescope, one Hans Lippershey can be credited for popularizing the device. Between the 16th and 17thcenturies, his two children were playing in his spectacle shop when they realized that simultaneously looking through concave lenses that were held both close to the eye and at arm’s length could make the local church tower appear closer than it was. Lippersehy took his children’s discovery and mounted the two lenses in a tube, creating his version of a telescope. Once perfected, Lippershey created designs and attempted to obtain a patent and sell his telescope to the Dutch army. 

Famed Italian astronomer and physicist Galileo Galilei discovered Lippershey’s designs and “Dutch Trunk” telescope in 1609, which motivated him to create his own telescope that increased magnification nearly twenty times. With this, Galileo discovered specific, physical characteristics about the planets around us, such as the spots of the Sun and the mountains of the moon. 

By 1668, Sir Isaac Newton introduced the reflecting telescope, which utilized a curved mirror instead of an enlarged lens, collecting and focusing light while also eliminating any chromatic abnormalities. 


Traditional vs. Digital

Traditional optical telescopes relied on mirrors and lenses to collect and magnify light, allowing astronomers to observe distant celestial objects. While these telescopes are still widely used, digital telescopes have marked a significant departure from their analog predecessors.

Digital telescopes still point up at the sky, but instead of sending the light through an eyepiece, it collects the image with a detector. What the user sees through the eyepiece is actually a display screen projecting the image of the sky. When using a traditional telescope, sky conditions must be absolutely perfect, if you want a clear and focused view. Digital telescopes create multiple ways to view and control more precise images. 

Digital telescopes, often referred to as CCD (charge-coupled device) telescopes, use advanced imaging sensors to capture and record light. These sensors consist of an array of pixels that can detect and convert photons into electrical signals. This digital approach has several advantages over traditional telescopes, like enabling the storage and transmission of astronomical images, as well as their manipulation and analysis in various ways.


The Power of Pixels: Advantages of Digital Telescopes

  1. Enhanced Sensitivity: digital telescopes are highly sensitive, and allow astronomers to study distant galaxies, nebulae, and even exoplanets in unprecedented detail.
  2. Versatility: digital telescopes can be used for a wide range of astronomical observations, from planetary imaging to deep-sky photography. The same telescope can be adapted to capture images of the Moon and the Sun or explore the mysteries of distant quasars.
  3. Long Exposures: accumulate light over extended periods, resulting in long-exposure images that reveal intricate details in celestial objects. This capability is especially valuable when observing faint and distant phenomena, such as deep-space galaxies and nebulae.
  4. Remote Observations: remotely operate digital telescopes, allowing astronomers to access and control telescopes located in different parts of the world. This global connectivity facilitates collaborative research and minimizes the impact of light pollution in urban areas.
  5. Image Processing: allows astronomers to bring out hidden details, reduce noise, and create stunning visual representations of the universe.






Electronics In Telescopes

Optical System: is responsible for collecting and focusing incoming light. It typically includes an Object Lens or Primary Mirror, along with a secondary Mirror 

Imaging sensor: the heart of a digital telescope is either a charge-coupled device (CCD) or complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) sensor that converts incoming photons into electrical signals, which are then processed to create digital images. 

Focuser: enables astronomers to adjust the distance between the imaging sensor and the primary optics, ensuring clear and sharp images. 

Filter Wheel: equipped with a variety of optical filters, these filters can be used to isolate specific wavelengths of light, for observing emission nebulae or solar filters for safely looking at the sun. 

Drive system: used to track celestial objects as they move across the sky, digital telescopes often have motorized drive systems that control the movement of the telescope’s mount. This ensures that the telescope remains pointed at the target for long-exposure imaging. 

Control System: enables astronomers to operate the telescope remotely, automate image acquisition, and store any data captured.  

Power: digital telescope power sources include batteries for portable setups or a stable power supply for observatories. 

Cooling Systems: used in high-end digital telescopes cool the imaging sensor to reduce electronic noise and improve image quality.  

The electronics in today’s digital telescopes offer convenience and capabilities that were impossible to achieve with traditional telescopes. A wide range of Keystone products can be found in today’s digital telescopes. This includes: Battery Clips, Contacts  & Holders,  LED holders, spacers and lens caps; Fuse Clips and HoldersPCB test points and terminalsspacers and standoffspanel hardware and PCB plugs, pins, jacks, and sockets and more.