31 December 2005

Amazing Astrophotography

Technological advances over the years have made astrophotography & CCD imaging more accessible than ever to interested amateurs. Those willing to sacrifice the time, effort, capital (and sleep ;-)), while maintaining the necessary intestinal fortitude to tackle a substantially long learning curve inevitably reap the sweet fruits of their labor by producing breathtaking imagery. As if observational astronomy weren't already rewarding enough, astrophotography opens our window to the cosmos even wider, providing the opportunity for immense amounts of detail to be captured beyond what our eyes can distinguish via astronomical optics alone.

It's simple enough to muster "decent" images with a relative minimum of gear and modest cunning. Since I presently lack the required funds to delve into high-end imaging equipment and the obligatory peripherals, I can cheat a bit with my trusty 10" dobsonian by snapping images afocally -- just barely enough to scratch my ever-growing astrophotographical itch. For now. Unlike my hackish, photon-thieving chicanery, the experienced, dedicated astrophotographers out there have converted an enjoyable hobby into a truly polished form of art.

With that in mind...

Some purely awe-inspiring images were released in 2005. I felt utterly compelled to compose an entry paying homage to my personal favorites in the hope of sharing their beauty with others. The authors featured in this article have generously allowed me to showcase their works, and for that I'm most appreciative. Please note that the images below are all copyrighted works and property of their respective owners.

I can think of no better way to begin the new year by celebrating the magnificent beauty of the universe and the steadfast efforts of those who capture its wondrous nature so beautifully.

Lets begin our tour on terra firma. Astronomer Jim Scotti captured this brilliant scene in November:

Meteor, clouds and domes
© James V. Scotti pixofmyuniverse.blogspot.com

He writes:

"This is the view out my back door - well, sort of. While observing at the Spacewatch 1.8-m telescope on Saturday morning, Nov. 26 (or not observing in this case thanks to wind and clouds), I took this photo as part of a timelapse set. I caught a rather nice meteor to go along with the clouds and domes. From the left is the Spacewatch 36 inch (0.9-m) telescope, the Steward Observatory 90 inch Bok telescope and the KPNO 4-meter Mayall telescope. The clouds and domes are lit by the crescent moon (partly obscured by the clouds) & the lights of Tucson."

Marvelous! Be sure to visit Jim's photoblog -- he serves up excellent photographs spanning numerous subjects. Wish I had the benefit of a professional observatory to serve as a backdrop for the subjects I shoot. ;-)

Next stop: Space.

Russell Croman is undoubtedly one of my favorite astro- photographers. His images have garnered widespread acclaim, and I'm truly envious of both the arsenal at his disposal as well as his technical expertise and painstaking attention to detail. The following series highlights my personal favorites he's assembled in the last year. Clicking on each image will take you to the corresponding entries on Russell's website where you may view larger-resolution versions and the pertinent image details.

The Merope Nebula
© 2005 Russell Croman
, www.rc-astro.com

Merope, one of the Seven Sisters in the Pleiades (M45) open cluster resides with its siblings in the constellation Taurus, a cozy 385 light-years away from Earth. The star basks in a prominent reflection nebula, NGC 1435, illuminating the molecular cloud's wispy tendrils. This is without question the finest image of the region I've ever seen. Absolutely stunning.

Spiral Galaxy M81
© 2005 Russell Croman, www.rc-astro.com

Bode's Galaxy, M81 (NGC 3031), originally discovered by Johann Elert Bode in 1774, is a striking type Sb spiral galaxy in the constellation Ursa Major. Its beauty remains completely intact even at a distance of 12,000,000 LY. A truly magnificent spiral specimen.

The Fox Fur Nebula
© 2005 Russell Croman, www.rc-astro.com

This image was featured as the Astronomy Picture of the Day on March 14th 2005. Located in the constellation Monoceros, this dynamic region is, in my opinion, one of the cosmos' finest artistic formations. Variable mammoth S Monocerotis, the brightest star (well, binary) visible in the field above & left of center, blazes away yielding 217,000 times the luminosity of our Sun -- the heavyweight accounts for a mindboggling 35 solar masses -- and illuminates surrounding dust via reflection with a surreal bluish hue. Truly an amazing region, and an equally incredible image.

Leg two of our journey through space...

No mention of my favorite imagers would be complete without praising Robert Gendler. I don't think I'd be able to add up the countless hours I've spent browsing his image galleries and the jaw-dropping shots contained therein. His passion clearly shines through in every photograph -- and the sheer dedication of time and effort necessary to assemble numerous masterpieces serves as an inspriation to astro-addicted amateurs like myself. Robert has published so extensively that I can't help but wonder how many people have seen his work without being aware of its author. Like the previous series, clicking on each photo will take you to the corresponding pages on Robert's website.

NGC 2170, Complex Nebula in Monoceros©2005 Robert Gendler, robgendlerastropics.com

Picking up (almost) where we left off, in Monoceros -- this star birth region is one of my all-time favorites. Note the marvelous contrast offered by (blue) reflection and (red) emission nebulae and the resulting textural complexities deep in the heart of Mon R2. Robert's recent image simply dazzles, and I'd contend it's the best of this area taken to date.

NGC 1973-75-77, Complex Nebula in Orion
© 2005 Robert Gendler, robgendlerastropics.com

Yet another of my favorite regions, located in The Hunter. Read about the comprehensive details as offered by the author, here: NGC 1973-75-77; the Orion Molecular Cloud.

And now, la piece de resistance:

The Andromeda Galaxy (M31)
© 2005 Robert Gendler, robgendlerastropics.com

This is without question my favorite astrophotograph of 2005 -- a truly splendid mosaic of our large spiral neighbor and culmination of some 90 cumulative hours of exposure. I can't imagine the amount of processing time tacked on in order to achieve this absolutely majestic result. Gendler's previous mosaic of M31 invoked similar feelings of awe; I didn't think it could be bested. While I still adore the prior incarnation, this new image, for the lack of a better phrase, completely blew me away. I discovered and marvelled over the image when it was freshly added to Robert's gallery page and again thereafter when it was featured as the Astronomy Picture of the Day on December 22nd, 2005. In my book, it's the astronomy picture of the year.

Thus concludes our little tour through the heavens. I certainly didn't mean to exclude any number of fantastic images compiled by other astrophotographers; those contained in this entry each struck me in a unique way. Besides, I'd overload this poor software by including photos from everyone I'd have liked. ;-)

Special thanks once again to Russell Croman, Robert Gendler, and Jim Scotti for allowing me to grace my cozy niche with their amazing work. Please make it a point to visit through their image galleries and enjoy the sheer beauty they have to offer.

My goal is to follow in the footsteps of these dedicated individuals when I've the resources to tackle this pursuit to the fullest. In the meantime, I hope these images have provided you with the same degree of inspiration they have myself. Awesome work, gentlemen -- I greatly look forward to seeing what the future brings.

Best wishes for a peaceful and fruitful New Year.

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Blogger Wolverine said...


Rob Gendler just notified me that he's posted a detail page for NGC 2170. Take a look!

9:48 AM CST  

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