Benefits of an all-sky camera for astronomy

1. Better sky status than your local forecast

Astronomy forecasting has made significant advancements in recent years, thanks to tools like “Clear Outside” and “Clear Sky Charts“, which provide a fairly accurate idea of the sky conditions. However, let’s admit that these forecasts are not infallible, and there’s nothing like actually observing the real-time conditions of the sky. We’ve all experienced situations where our weather app predicted sunny weather, but we ended up getting caught in the rain while outdoors. An all-sky camera serves as the perfect solution, as it remains outside to capture the actual sky conditions, just like being “rained on” in place of us.

Image from an all-sky camera showing a lightning storm to the southeast.
Image from an Astra180 all-sky camera with a storm and lightning arriving from the southwest.

2. Check your sky without your eye’s dark adapting

Many adverse sky conditions remain unnoticed until your eyes have fully dark adapted. However, an all-sky camera does not encounter this issue. Here’s a brief list of things that are difficult to see until your eyes have adapted to the darkness:

  • Smoke
  • Thin high clouds
  • Airglow (night glow)
  • Aurora
  • The severity of light pollution

We have another article listing 6 things in the sky besides clouds that can ruin your astrophotography or observing session. Most listed are able to be picked up by an all-sky camera.

Side by side allsky camera halfs left winter, right summer.
Two images from the same Astra180 All-Sky Camera. Left is from a dry cool winter night. The right side is from a muggy summer night. Notice the the summer side, the light pollution from the nearby city extends much farther into the sky.

3. Is it my equipment or my sky?

Do you ever find yourself pondering the question, “Is the issue with my equipment or the sky itself?” This thought often arises, especially when managing a remote observatory.

In such cases, an all-sky camera proves to be an invaluable asset for both local and remote observatories. In fact, it surpasses cloud sensors in effectiveness! While cloud sensors serve their purpose well, nothing compares to the capability of an all-sky camera to provide real-time visibility of approaching clouds from the horizon, the presence of isolated clouds, and the types of clouds that currently obscure the sky.

Image from an all-sky camera with a cloud in the north.
Image from an Astra180 all-sky camera showing a temporary cloud batch passing through mostly in the north, while the Moon rises.

4. Learn the difference between a mediocre sky and a great sky

Analyzing all-sky images from night to night is a valuable method to distinguish between average and exceptional skies. Nights with outstanding moonless skies are rare occurrences. By promptly checking your all-sky camera, you can determine if you are blessed with great skies. If the conditions are favorable, seize the opportunity to capture breathtaking photos, engage in scientific endeavors, or simply indulge in visual observation.

Related Articles

Astra180 All-Sky Camera

The StarSync Tracker

Shutter Latency Tool (NEXTA)

Other Astronomy Related Topics

Clipart of a galaxy

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