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A Clean Chip Means Better Images.

Posted by Luke Schmidt   05/16/2007 09:55PM

A Clean Chip Means Better Images.
This is not only a review of PecPads and Eclipse cleaning supplies, but also what is known on the internet as the "Copper Hill cleaning method". I recently purchased a new camera for planetary imaging, I was excited to get my first images, but was disappointed during my first night of imaging when I found out my camera had a dirty chip. Really dirty.

I tried the cleaning method in the owners manual, blowing dust off with one of those little rubber bulbs, but I noticed no improvement. It seemed I had managed to just move the dust around. I decided I needed something stronger. A few minutes searching the web led me to
Here I found a very in depth discussion of cleaning sensors in digital SLR cameras with a rather unorthodox tool. A spatula. The author was also frustrated by lack of results with the bulb method and in a flash of insight developed the technique described on the above web site. You should read his whole discussion, I found it very informative, it is directed at digital SLR owners, but much of it applies to the care and maintenance of astronomical cameras as well. To summarize the method, you need PecPads (lint free, 99.999% contaminant free, non-abrasive wipes)

and Eclipse cleaning solution (I'm not sure what's in it, there is a warning on the side of the box that says it contains methanol).

The final tool is an ordinary spatula.

You start by cutting down the spatula to the size of your sensor, then taking care to not contaminate the pad with oil from your fingers, wrap the tip of the spatula with a PecPad and secure it with scotch tape, then after placing a drop or two of the Eclipse cleaning solution on the tip you swab your sensor with the flat end of the wrapped spatula. The flexibility of the spatula allows you to apply pressure to sweep the dust off, while keeping you from applying too much pressure. Lather rinse and repeat until your dust is gone.

The procedure is outlined in more detail in the Copper Hill website tutorial, so before trying this I urge you to read it carefully. You can also buy a kit on their website, but I just used my own spatula and purchased a package of PecPads and a bottle of Eclipse cleaning solution from, total cost with shipping was $22.50 and I should have enough supplies to clean my CCD many times. Now for the moment of truth, how did it work? After swabbing the sensor a total of six times (three PecPads, one swab on each side of the spatula) my sensor now looks like this.

I am confident that a couple more swabs and I would be able to get rid of the rest of the dust. Once you have your sensor clean, make sure you get it covered with some sort of filter (UV/IR block) and keep the filter on to keep out stray dust, if you need to remove the filter, make sure you do it with the sensor facing down so that dust can't settle on the sensor while you have it uncovered. I am very pleased with the results, I was a little nervous the first try, but I couldn't be happier with the Copper Hill method of cleaning and with PecPads and Eclipse cleaning solution. Now I just need to go buy another spatula!