Top 5 winners of the 2023 astronomy photo of the year contest


The winners of the Royal Observatory Greenwich’s 15th year of astronomy photography have been announced, and the images are nothing short of incredible.

Top 5 winners of the 2023 astronomy photo of the year contest 9632


The world’s largest astrophotography contest consists of more than 4,000 separate submissions from 64 different countries, with each of the submissions going into a selection of different categories. The winners of 2023 were announced via a shortlist that was published in July, and now we able to see all of the notable submissions. The contest features 11 categories and below you will find winners for; Overall Winner, Auroras, Our Moon, Our Sun, and Stars & Nebulas.

The first image below is the winning photograph of 2023’s astrophotography contest, and it showcases the neighboring Andromeda galaxy. The image titled “Andromed, unexpected” was snapped by an amateur astronomer team led by Marcel Drechsler, Xavier Strottner and Yann Sainty. Notably, the plasma streak on the left-hand side of the image was a unique discovery, with researchers now studying it as its believed it could be largest discovered streak of its kind.

Overall Winner/Galaxies

Image credit: Marcel Drechsler, Xavier Strottner and Yann Sainty

Image credit: Marcel Drechsler, Xavier Strottner and Yann Sainty

Our Moon

Image credit: Ethan Chappel

Image credit: Ethan Chappel

Our Sun

Image credit: Eduardo Schaberger Poupeau

Image credit: Eduardo Schaberger Poupeau


Image credit: Monika Devia

Image credit: Monika Devia

Stars & Nebulas

Image Credit: Marcel Drechsler

Image Credit: Marcel Drechsler


Hitchcock Nature Center hosts Perseids meteor shower viewing


Residents near and far are invited to bring their lawn chairs, blankets and telescopes and join Pottawattamie Conservation on Saturday at 8 p.m. for the Perseids Shower Night Sky Event at Hitchcock Nature Center.

The Perseids meteor shower is considered the best meteor shower of the year, often with 50 to 100 meteors falling per hour during its peak in mid-August.

Hitchcock Nature Center, 27792 Ski Hill Loop in Honey Creek, offers a good location for viewing the shower and other celestial bodies because of its distance from city lights and large rolling hills that offer obstructed views of the night sky.

The Omaha Astronomical Society will be present at the park with telescopes that offer visitors close-up views of the night sky’s celestial bodies.

This event is free with a $5 per vehicle park entry fee or Pottawattamie Conservation Foundation membership.

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Vehicles will be allowed into the park, spaces permitting, until 10 p.m. All vehicles will need to exit the park by midnight.

The Perseids Shower Night Sky Event is dependent on weather and cloud cover. Those planning on attending should check or the Hitchcock Nature Center Facebook page for any changes or cancellations before they head out.


Stars in eyes, sky is limit for this astrophotographer | Lucknow News


When astrophotography began as a hobby for Harshwardhan Pathak three years ago, he had never dreamt that it would get him international recognition.
According to great philosopher Plato, “Astronomy compels the soul to look upward and leads us from this world to another. ” The same rollercoaster journey happened to Harshwardhan (21), who out of curiosity went to the Indira Gandhi Planetarium to have a look at the celestial events using a telescope under the guidance of senior scientific officer Sumit Srivastava. He developed an instant passion and soon became an ace astrophotographer.
Today, this Lucknow lad is making his presence felt in the world of astrophotography as one of his images was recently selected by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) as the picture of the day.
Harshwardhan, who is a science graduate (physics, mathematics, astronomy) student at the Lucknow University and also an amateur astrophotographer associated with the Uttar Pradesh Amateur Astronomers Club(UPAAC), featured as ‘India’s Astrophotographer of the Year 2022′ at APOD, Astronomica, Italy. He also won the HOYS (Hunting Out Bursting Young Stars) citizen science astrophotography competition conducted by Kent University, Australia, and participated in various citizen science projects like ‘NASA asteroid search campaign’ and others.
“My astrophotography journey began at Indira Gandhi Planetarium where workshops on astrophotography were held. I would often visit the planetarium and gradually I picked up an interest in deep-sky objects (DSO) which is an astronomical object that is not an individual star or solar system object (such as the sun, moon, planet, comet and others),” said Harshwardhan.
“Soon, I learnt space image processing on my own through articles on the internet and various videos on YouTube of various astrophotographers around the globe. Indira Gandhi Planetarium supported me a lot by providing the equipment and helping me with image processing which is the main aspect of astrophotography. It reveals the dust and ionized gases after capturing them in different filters, and helps in revealing the beauty of various celestial objects in space,” he adds.
Harshwardhan says that in deep sky, the main issue that he faced was he couldn’t do deep sky imaging from Lucknow’s main city without proper narrowband filters, due to light pollution (emitted from streetlights) which hides the beauty of the night sky.
“We can’t even see stars from the main city. So, what I did was to use a remote astronomical telescope that can be controlled offsite by an observer over the Internet, and is housed in an observatory with an automated system for opening and closing the roof. Allsystems are mechanical and controlled by computer. It’s made available by various astronomical organizations at nominal rates. This helped me a lot to continue my hobby and reveal the beauty of space which is hidden and cannot be viewed by humans on earth,” Harshwardhan adds.
“It was like a dream come true when my image was selected as NASA’s ‘Astronomical Picture of the Day’, where images are sent by astrophotographers from across the globe. It is a very prestigious recognition and a dream of every astrophotographer of every tier. Another image selected in APOD Astronomical, Italy, was the second big success for me in this field,” he says.
After graduation, he plans to pursue post-graduation in physics and conduct research in astrophysics. Buoyed over the achievements of Pathak, Indira Gandhi Planetarium has shared that soon the planetarium will be revamped with hi-tech facilities to nurture young astro-enthusiasts.
“On May 12, 2023, an astronomical photo of Harshwardhan: NGC 7000 (North America Nebula) was awarded Astronomy Picture of the Day by NASA. His second astronomical photo NGC 3372 (Carina Nebula) was also featured in APOD Astronomica, which publishes astronomy photos globally. We are proud of his achievements,” says senior scientific officer Sumit Srivastava of the Indira Gandhi Planetarium.


Locals explore universe at local library | News


SUMMIT Space fans of all ages received a lesson in Astronomy and Astrophotography Tuesday afternoon at the Boyd County Midland Branch Public Library.

The lesson, headed by Ashland city commissioner Josh Blanton, included an interactive talk about galaxies, black holes, planetary orbits, telescopes and how to photograph sky and space phenomenon.

The visit was part of a wide variety of summer programs offered for teens and “tweens” sponsored by the library.

During the exhibit, titled “Explore the Universe with Josh,” Blanton said in the midst of the pandemic, he had the extra time to nurture his childhood infatuation with telescopes — leading to his new hobby of astrophotography.

Blanton said recent technology developments is revolutionizing astronomy, making far away things clearer and easier to observe for the average person with just their cell phones.

With the use of apps, one can map the sky above them to notify which planets are in transit and viewable sometimes with the naked eye.

Discussing light movement, gravitational pull and planetary tilts and rotations, Blanton displayed a variety of self-shot photos — or data —that depicted comets, the Andromeda Galaxy and Aurora borealis (northern lights).

Blanton said the Andromeda Galaxy is our solar system’s neighbor, set to eventually merge with the Milky Way Galaxy in about 4.5 million years.

Taking advantage of the darkest areas in the region, Blanton is able to utilize his camera’s long exposure to pull in as much light as possible in order to gain clear data of each phenomena — including a close-up shot of the Andromeda Galaxy from over 2.5 million lightyears away.

Blanton told the group telescopes behave as a time machine, as it takes so long for light to travel the insane distances to reach what the camera lens can pick up.

For those in the crowd eager for a career in space, Blanton mentioned a couple notables that got their start in Ashland.

Susie Martinez, now an engineer for Blue Origin, started her educational journey at Ashland Community and Technical College before going on to further her education, eventually earning an internship with NASA.

Les Johnson, also a native of Ashland, is a physicist for NASA’s space propulsion program, dedicating his time and career to developing a way for humans to travel lightyears away.

Johnson is also a notable sci-fi author, recently vising Ashland for a talk at Highlands Museum and Discovery Center and book signings downtown.

At the end of the discussion, Blanton guided both children and adults outside in an attempt to view the moon with the instruction to check out the Ashland Area Astronomy and Astrophotography Facebook page.

For a full calendar of happenings at the Boyd County Public Library this month, visit


With land buys, Nebraskan has added on-the-ground conservation to Photo Ark’s visual focus


Joel Sartore celebrated two very visible milestones last month.


Joel Sartore reached a new milestone in the National Geographic Photo Ark last month, adding his 14,000th species. The Indochinese green magpie, named Jolie, is at the Los Angeles Zoo. She survived being smuggled in a suitcase, with little ability to move, during a flight from Vietnam.

The Lincoln-based National Geographic photographer added his 14,000th species to the National Geographic Photo Ark, a project he founded in 2005 to document Earth’s biodiversity. The stunning Indochinese green magpie named Jolie, now at the Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens, was one of only eight birds — out of 93 — to survive a flight from Vietnam in a wildlife trafficker’s suitcases in 2017.

Twenty of Sartore’s photos of endangered species from the Photo Ark were featured on a panel of U.S. postage stamps released to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act. One, a piping plover, was photographed near Fremont, Nebraska.

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But Sartore and his wife, Kathy, also have been quietly working on a less visible conservation project.

Over about the past dozen years, the couple have purchased about 5,700 acres of what Joel Sartore called “conservation land” — pastureland dotted with marshes, lakes and native grasses that are home to thousands of birds in warm months — in southern Sheridan County in Nebraska’s Sandhills.

They partner with a local ranch family with a similar conservation ethos. Jaclyn and Blaine Wilson, the daughter-father pair who operate the nearby Wilson Flying Diamond Ranch, and another family member lease and run cattle on the grazeable acres. The Wilson ranch was awarded Nebraska’s first-ever Leopold Conservation Award by the Sand County Foundation in 2006.


Twenty of Joel Sartore’s photos of endangered species for the National Geographic Photo Ark were featured in a panel of stamps that the U.S. Postal Service issued last month to mark the 50th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act.

“It’s a lovely place, and it’s something I feel like I can do for conservation in a way that Photo Ark doesn’t do,” Sartore said. “This is real on-the-ground stuff.”

He and his wife, he said, have financed the purchases themselves by working hard and saving their money over the years. Sartore is known for his frugality and hard work; as a youth in Ralston, he worked at gas stations and a record store, mowed lawns and cleaned aquariums. Early in their marriage, he said, the couple bought, fixed up and sold two small farms in the Lincoln area, doing much of the work themselves.

The couple plan to put the land in trust so it’s maintained at its current level of use by people who have been there for generations, Sartore said. They also want to protect its abundant water from people who might come calling from drier regions.

“It’s a lifetime of work, and this is what we ended up with,” he said. “If we can afford it, we’d love to do it again.”

They also have purchased a couple of smaller conservation properties in eastern Nebraska — two small farms, one near Bennet and the other near Ceresco, as well as a pasture near Valparaiso. They’ve implemented conservation measures on all three, instituting rotational grazing on the pasture, as well as restoring ponds and planting native grasses and wildflowers for birds and pollinating insects.

But the bulk of their conservation purchases, he said, have been in Sheridan County. They bought their first pasture in the area in about 2011. They added larger parcels in 2019 and 2022, according to Sheridan County Assessor’s Office records, purchasing a total of about 4,400 acres for approximately $3.56 million.

Sartore said the couple focuses on wet ground — land a rancher can’t make much of a living on but that yields big conservation returns, land that provides habitat for waterfowl and upland ground for long-billed curlews, a species in decline. It’s also less costly acre-for-acre than farmland.

“These are not places you buy if you really want to invest your money,” he said.

Jaclyn Wilson recalls getting an email from Sartore in March 2020, about the time COVID-19 was taking off. Wilson, a fifth-generation rancher, knew who he was. Her grandparents gave her family a National Geographic subscription for Christmas each year. Its arrival in the mail was a monthly highlight.

In his email, Sartore counted himself among Wilson’s biggest fans. She has been writing opinion columns for the Midwest Messenger, an ag-focused publication, for more than a decade.

Wilson invited him to visit the ranch, and Sartore spent several days there in August 2020. He brought a biologist, and they collected insects, identifying 100-some species, including some new to the Photo Ark and a beetle that previously hadn’t been found that far north.

“It was really cool stuff,” Wilson said.

She took him to the property he’d previously purchased, and he asked if there were similar properties available in the area. Sartore’s more recent purchases include Thompson Lake, which is known for waterfowl, and Snow Lake, which features waterfowl and curlews and also is known for salamanders.

Sartore recalled that he’d read a real estate listing about the salamanders, which mentioned them as a commodity that could be seined and sold for fishing bait.

He said Dan Fogell, a herpetologist and life sciences instructor at Southeast Community College in Lincoln, has identified them as a subspecies of the Western tiger salamander called the Gray tiger salamander. They’re usually found a bit farther north, Fogell told him, but they’ve been found in multiple places in the Sandhills as well.

sartore sandhills

Jaclyn Wilson, left, and friend Amy Sandeen watch a thunderstorm roll in from the first pasture that Joel and Kathy Sartore purchased in the Sandhills for conservation more than a decade ago. Wilson, a fifth-generation rancher, operates the nearby Wilson Ranch near Lakeside, Nebraska, with her father, Blaine Wilson. Wilson family members run cattle on the Sartores’ pastures.

Wilson said her grandparents emphasized conservation and passed down those lessons to later generations. They planted thousands of trees and adopted management practices that are now widely recommended. They raised game birds for release to enhance local populations and only cut hay at certain times of the year. The family also has worked to restore a wetland on its property. In recent years, the ranch has begun selling beef direct to consumers through its website.

Both the family and Sartore encourage scientists to study wildlife on their properties. One project, Wilson said, involved collecting sonar data on bat populations. Another researcher studied dung beetles. Sartore noted that the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission bands geese in the area each spring.

“It’s been really neat that we’ve been able to bridge that gap with some of the conservationists he works with,” Wilson said.

Sartore said he likes the Sandhills because it polices itself. Run too many cattle for too long, and it creates bare spots, or blowouts.

He said he doesn’t have to worry about the condition of the land where he has made his purchases. It was, and continues to be, managed by people who care.

But the family’s purchases offer a chance to keep the most beautiful places from being developed after they’re gone, he said. Many of natural areas where he collected tadpoles and crayfish as a kid in Ralston now are under concrete.

Sartore takes other conservation measures, too, including maintaining a pollinator garden at his Lincoln office, complete with signs explaining what it is and how to do it at home. The FAQ section on his website — — includes tips on how anyone can help save species, from properly insulating their homes to conserve energy to cutting back on single-use plastic items like grocery bags.

“We just think nature needs a break, and it has to be intentional,” he said.

Meanwhile, Sartore, who’s nearing 61, continues what he calls his “day job” with Photo Ark, a job he wants to continue as long as he can. For many species, the photographs are the only vetted and accurate record of their existence. His son, Cole, now accompanies him on overseas shoots.

He said he may hit 15,000 species by the end of the year. Initially, he estimated that the project would come in around 12,000 species, based on the number in the world’s accredited zoos and aquariums at the time. But those have grown in number, and he’ll go anyplace animals are in human care, from fish markets to wildlife rehabilitation facilities. He could see the Ark possibly reaching 20,000 species.

“It’s meant to inspire (people to) want to save nature and save themselves at the same time,” he said.


It’s a great time for CT residents to view the night sky


If you are interested in astronomy, there will be some excellent opportunities for viewing and photographing the night sky in the coming months. Spring (March – May) is known as “galaxy season” to amateur astronomers, with a greater number of galaxies visible in the night sky than any other time of year.

Many amateur astronomers take advantage of this time to observe and photograph these amazing objects.

Galaxies are huge swirling masses of stars, cosmic gas and dust held together by gravity. With the recent deployment of the James Webb telescope, we are learning much more about their age and origins. There are estimated to be billions of galaxies in the universe, each containing billions of stars. They are present in a variety of shapes and sizes, and typically span light years across. The galaxies we can observe are millions of light years away, and it is really amazing that we can see them at all at that distance, even with a telescope.

The Andromeda Galaxy is the closest galaxy to our Milky Way, at a distance of 2.5 million light years away.

Most of us have seen the amazing photographs of galaxies taken with the James Webb telescope, either in the news, on-line or in astronomy magazines. However, you may not know that a photograph taken from your own back yard with only amateur equipment can also reveal some excellent detail of deep sky objects, including the glowing stars present within the massive spiral arms of galaxies, and the regions of new star formation or “nebulosity” interwoven between them.

Unlike other forms of photography, astrophotography involves taking a series of long exposures or videos, and then processing them digitally afterward with a technique known as image “stacking.” This results in a much brighter composite final image with greater detail than would otherwise be possible. After capturing and saving the desired images on a laptop computer, image stacking can be done with a variety of different astronomy-specific software applications, and additional software can be used to give the photos their final touches.

When taking photos of galaxies or any other deep sky objects, selection of the right equipment is key. As far as the telescope itself is concerned, telescopes with shorter focal lengths and a wider field of view (such as a small refractor or reflector telescope) are best for beginners to learn on. As you gain expertise, telescopes with bigger apertures, longer focal lengths and a narrower field of view can also be used.

Cameras used for astrophotography have extremely sensitive optical sensors, specialized to gather dim light from distant objects, and are usually electronically cooled to reduce optical noise. A standard 35mm camera can also be used instead of an astronomy camera, but modifications may need to be made to achieve good results. The camera is typically connected to the back of a telescope and to a laptop computer, where images can be downloaded and viewed on the computer screen while capturing them. In addition, one of the most important pieces of equipment needed for astrophotography is a sturdy equatorial telescope mount, which automatically tracks the movement of the stars to allow in-focus images without star trails.

What is the best way to learn astrophotography? The most important thing you can do is to join a local amateur astronomy club, where you can go to observing events (aka “star parties”) and meet other like-minded amateur astronomers. Most clubs have members with a wide range of expertise and interests, and you can learn a lot in a very short time. I belong to the Thames Amateur Astronomical Society in southeast Connecticut, but there are also others in the state including the Astronomical Society of Greater Hartford and the Astronomical Society of New Haven. No matter where you are located, there is likely to be an amateur astronomy club in your area.

When learning this hobby there is also a lot of information available from various on-line forums such as the “Cloudy Nights” forum, where you can find others with the same equipment you have and post your questions. Other on-line resources that I have found useful for learning this hobby include web sites or you-tube channels for Heavenly Backyard Astronomy, Astroforum, Star Stuff, Martin’s Astrophotography, AstroBackyard and Late Night Astronomy. Last, I have found Astronomy Magazine to be a great source of information as it provides equipment reviews, good articles, and tips on what to look for in the night sky each month.

Whether you are an experienced or beginning amateur astronomer, I encourage you to try your hand at astrophotography, and galaxy season is a great time for that. Starting out in this hobby can be expensive, and can have a large learning curve, especially for those with little or no background in photography or astronomy. However, if you if you have the time and patience to learn, it can be a very rewarding and enjoyable hobby.

John Natale is an amateur astronomer and resident of East Haddam. For additional information on amateur astronomy or astrophotography, he can be contacted at [email protected].




Astrophotographer Richard Whitehead Shoots Out-of-This-World Images From St. George | Visual Art | Seven Days


click to enlarge The Jellyfish Nebula, a galactic supernova remnant approximately 5,000 light-years from Earth - COURTESY OF RICHARD WHITEHEAD

  • Courtesy of Richard Whitehead
  • The Jellyfish Nebula, a galactic supernova remnant approximately 5,000 light-years from Earth

Perusing Richard Whitehead’s photographs of the night sky, one can be forgiven for mistaking them for professional images captured by the Hubble or James Webb space telescopes. Whitehead’s online astrophotography gallery includes celestial structures more commonly captured by orbiting telescopes and large mountaintop observatories.

Among them: the zoologically named Horsehead, Tadpole, Pelican and Elephant’s Trunk nebulae; the spirals of the Whirlpool, Pinwheel and Andromeda galaxies; and other cosmic structures that offer clues to the origins of stars and solar systems, including the Wizard, Heart and Soul nebulae.

click to enlarge Richard Whitehaed - COURTESY OF RICHARD WHITEHEAD

  • Courtesy of Richard Whitehead
  • Richard Whitehaed

But all of Whitehead’s amateur photos were shot through comparably small, ground-based telescopes, sometimes in his front yard in St. George, other times in a New Mexico desert. And while Whitehead’s scopes are considerably more sophisticated — and expensive — than the kind children receive as holiday gifts, he noted that many of the heavenly bodies he’s photographed can be seen with a modest investment of time and money.

In fact, Whitehead’s passion for astrophotography is a relatively new hobby that he took up at the start of the pandemic. In just three years, the 61-year-old has become a self-taught expert on space photography, producing stellar images that circulate widely among space enthusiasts and researchers alike. Whitehead often receives professional accolades for his photos, and amateur astrophotographers around the world now contact him for advice.

While Whitehead has a website where he sells his prints emblazoned on hats, mugs and T-shirts, he’s not in it for the money.

“I like to think of myself as a visual artist,” he said. “I like the creative aspect of it, though I’m fascinated by the science, too.”

click to enlarge The Wizard Nebula - COURTESY OF RICHARD WHITEHEAD

  • Courtesy of Richard Whitehead
  • The Wizard Nebula

Whitehead, who runs a Burlington software company that he cofounded 25 years ago, lives alone in St. George with Herschel, his exuberant 6-month-old Australian labradoodle puppy, who resembles a teddy bear you’d win at a county fair. Amid the ample collection of musical instruments in Whitehead’s home — guitars, basses and drums — are framed prints of his space photography.

Many of those prints are quite large. They include one of Whitehead’s best photos to date: a stunningly vivid, 3-by-4-foot shot of the Jellyfish Nebula, captured in St. George during four virtually crystal clear nights. Last month, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration chose the image as its “Astronomy Picture of the Day” and posted it to its Facebook page — considered high praise among amateur astrophotographers.

Another image of Whitehead’s, of the Siamese Twins galaxies, was similarly recognized by the Italian astronomical society Gruppo Astrofili Galileo Galilei. Still other images have received accolades from the Amateur Astronomy Photo of the Day website, which receives thousands of submissions annually from photographers worldwide. Though few people get theirs posted, Whitehead has already had four of his photos featured on the site.

Astrophotography is more complicated than terrestrial photography and involves layering multiple frames to produce the final image. Whereas conventional photography typically entails shutter speeds of tenths, hundredths or thousandths of a second, astrophotography involves stacking dozens of images, each created using 20- to 30-minute exposures, often shot over multiple nights.

Once Whitehead has gathered all that raw digital data, he processes it using various software, including Adobe Photoshop and PixInsight. The latter is an astrophotography program that aligns the stars in the overlapping images and eliminates unwanted “noise” created by thermal and atmospheric disturbances.

Whitehead has five telescopes. Usually, though, he shoots his Vermont-based images through a 106-millimeter (just over four inches) refractor scope mounted on a tripod on his front lawn. A refractor scope has a long optical tube with a convex glass lens at one end. Light from the sky enters through that lens, then exits through the eyepiece or camera shutter. (Whitehead does all of his viewing on a computer.)

The Pleiades, aka the Seven Sisters, a star cluster about 444 light-years from Earth and visible to the naked eye - COURTESY OF RICHARD WHITEHEAD

  • Courtesy of Richard Whitehead
  • The Pleiades, aka the Seven Sisters, a star cluster about 444 light-years from Earth and visible to the naked eye

In all, his Vermont-based kit, including the telescope, tripod, filters, motor, camera and computer link, cost him about $50,000. While he acknowledged that’s a lot of money, he added, “When I think I’m ridiculous, I look at the guy who spent half a million.”

Whitehead also rents space at a professional telescope hosting facility in a New Mexico desert. “They get about 300 clear nights a year, as opposed to Vermont, which gets about 20,” he said. “It can be good here, but it’s very hit or miss.” In New Mexico, he houses his reflecting telescope, which uses curved mirrors rather than lenses to capture and focus the light. Like Whitehead’s Vermont-based scope, he controls the reflector scope in New Mexico remotely via a laptop in Vermont.

Whitehead had no formal education in astronomy or astrophysics, but he grew up surrounded by high-tech gadgetry. He was born and raised in England, in a small rural town in the East Midlands. Whitehead’s father, a decorated military radio operator during World War II, ran a maritime radio station and was also a ham radio enthusiast.

“There were always wires and equipment around the house, which is a bit like me,” he said. “So I guess I inherited that.”

As a child, Whitehead had a small backyard telescope for stargazing, and his small rural hometown of about 5,000 people had very little light pollution. Whitehead was also a fan of Sir Patrick Moore, the famous British astronomer who for years had a BBC television show called “The Sky at Night.” Whitehead described him as a 1960s version of Neil deGrasse Tyson.

click to enlarge The Andromeda Galaxy, the Milky Way's nearest neighbor, approximately 2.5 million light-years from Earth - COURTESY OF RICHARD WHITEHEAD

  • Courtesy of Richard Whitehead
  • The Andromeda Galaxy, the Milky Way’s nearest neighbor, approximately 2.5 million light-years from Earth

Whitehead attended university, where he received a degree in radiography, then spent three years working as a medical X-ray technician. Feeling limited by the job, he changed careers to sales and marketing for the pharmaceutical industry. Then, in the late 1990s, he cofounded an analytical software firm called CSL Software Solutions. With clients in the Northeast, and having enjoyed several previous visits to Vermont, Whitehead moved the company to Burlington in 2006.

Already an avid amateur photographer, Whitehead had a small telescope that he used only rarely for stargazing prior to 2020. When the pandemic hit, he started playing around with the telescope again, then bought himself a small star tracker that follows the movement of celestial objects across the night sky.

Bored one night during the lockdown, Whitehead aimed his telescope toward the Orion Nebula and shot some photos using 30-second to one-minute exposures. Though his first one was “a rubbish image,” Whitehead said, its colors inspired him to create better ones.

“And that was the start of the addiction,” he added.

Soon, Whitehead upgraded to an 11-inch reflector scope, which enabled him to shoot much sharper images of galaxies and nebulae. (He’s less interested in photographing planets but has some good images of the moon and comets.) Much of the processing software Whitehead needed was available online for free. Numerous catalogs for locating and identifying celestial objects are also available online. Whitehead integrated his expertise in databases, which he acquired as a software developer, into his newfound pastime.

How does artistry enter the cosmic picture? As Whitehead explained, some of the creativity is similar to that of conventional photography: framing the subject, deciding on the picture’s depth of field, and choosing the right shutter speeds and filters. Whitehead uses very narrow filters — a mere three nanometers wide — that enable his telescope to peer through clouds of dust in space.

In astrophotography, Whitehead explained, the photographer also has the ability to change the colors that appear in the final image. The so-called “Hubble Palette,” made famous by the Hubble Space Telescope, is merely a convention that NASA developed: blues represent the presence of oxygen, oranges and reds the presence of hydrogen, yellows for sulfur, and so on for other elements. However, as Whitehead pointed out, amateur astrophotographers can choose completely different colors to represent those elements, rendering familiar objects in space in new ways.

Not all of Whitehead’s subjects have been photographed countless times before. He spent 30 hours photographing the Bear Claw Nebula, of which, he said, there’s only a handful of other images online, and “none of them particularly great.

“Scientific images aren’t necessarily pretty images,” he added.

Naturally, when photographing objects millions of light-years away, astrophotographers still encounter obstacles in their own neighborhood, from heavy cloud cover and light pollution to the proliferation of satellites, such as Starlink, which are highly reflective. While Whitehead can use software to eliminate some of the trails and reflections created by passing aircraft, satellites and meteors, often he has to throw away those images and take new ones.

Not all unexpected images are unwanted. In Whitehead’s Jellyfish Nebula, for example, he captured something he didn’t expect and couldn’t identify, which may be a planetary nebula, a region of cosmic dust and gas created by a dying star. And in 2021, while photographing Messier 78, a nebula in the constellation Orion, Whitehead caught Herbig-Haro objects, which form when gas ejected by young stars collides with clouds of other gas and dust at high speeds. In his photo, they appear as narrow red jets.

While Whitehead’s images have caught the attention of some professional astronomers and researchers, most of his fans are amateur space enthusiasts like himself, who enjoy pondering the vastness of the universe and our place in it.

“Whatever’s going on in the world,” he said, “you can look up at the sky and realize how small and insignificant we are.”


Popular astronomy festival returns to Galway next week


AstroFest, Galway Astronomy Club’s annual festival of all things astronomy, will return next week after a three year hiatus.

The festival will take place in the Menlo Park Hotel on Saturday January 28, and promises a packed programme of talks, along with trade displays, photographic displays, and a lunchtime workshop with Tom O’Donoghue, one of Ireland’s best known astrophotographers.

Registration will open at 9.15am on the January 28, and will run all day.

On January 27, the evening before AstroFest, Galway Astronomy Club will host a special screening of Contact, the 1997 film starring Jodie Foster as Dr Ellie Arroway, who after years of searching finds conclusive radio proof of extraterrestrial intelligence, which has been sending plans for a mysterious machine. The screening will take place in the Pálás Cinema at 9pm, and is a rare opportunity to see this classic film on the big screen.

The day-long festival on the Saturday will include talks on a wide variety of topics; these include ‘Cutting Edge Radio Astronomy in Ireland’ with Jeremy Rigney, ‘Is there Anybody Out There’ with Brian MacGabhann, ‘Ancient Irish Rock Art and Astronomy’ with Aoibheann Lambe, and ‘Detecting Exo-Earths with Future Telescopes’ with Nicholas Devaney.

Tuam native Tom O’Donoghue is well-known in the Irish astronomy community. One of Ireland’s leading astrophotographers, his work has won several awards. He has been featured in the BBC’s The Sky At Night, and in magazines such as Astronomy and Space, Astronomy Now, the French Astronomie Magazine, and Practical Astronomer. Those familiar with our AstroFest will have seen O’Donoghue’s images bring colour and the ‘wow’ factor to previous festivals. For more information see

The highlight of the day will be the Patrick Moore Memorial Lecture, ‘Artemis and Beyond: Where Past Meets Our Future’ with Shehnaz Soni, an aerospace engineer at NASA who will be speaking live from the US on the Artemis Project, an ambitious plan to return humans to the Moon and, ultimately, Mars. The festival dinner on Saturday evening will give attendees the opportunity to meet and chat informally.

The talks are geared toward a general audience, and will appeal to both scientists and laypeople. Children aged over 11 years who are interested in all things science and space are also welcome to attend.

Tickets for the festival are €30 for guests, and €20 for club members and students. Entry is free for children under 16. The festival dinner is €40, and can be booked online or on the door. The festival screening tickets are available from the Pálás Cinema,

For full details visit or find Galway Astronomy Club


Annual astronomy festival returns to Science Center


HICKORY — BoBfest: Regional Gathering of Amateur Astronomers returns to Catawba Science Center on Saturday, Jan. 28. The event will be held from 8:30 a.m. until 4 p.m.

BoBfest is free and open to the public. The event will feature keynote speakers, astrophotography displays, and door prizes. Vendors, exhibitors, and information about local events and facilities will be available, as well as the chance to engage with amateur and professional astronomers from the region. 

CSC staff and volunteers along with the Patrick Beaver Memorial Library will be heading up family activities from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Activities will include crafts and experiments related to astronomy for children of all ages.

Attendees ranging from professional astronomers to those who simply have an interest in astronomy are welcome. Anyone looking into astronomy as a hobby is urged to come and ask questions of the more experienced astronomers.

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This year’s keynote speakers are Corrie Ann Delgado with her presentation, “Through the Eyes of the James Webb Space Telescope,” and Michael Rehnberg with his presentation “When Clear Skies Aren’t Enough: Weather Forecasting for Amateur Astronomers.”

There will also be afternoon forums with different speakers covering a range of topics from astrophotography to space radio, and how to get started in astronomy. In addition to the keynote speakers and various afternoon forums on astronomy topics, there will be solar observing available during lunch, weather permitting.

Tickets will be sold for a wide variety of door prizes for $1 per ticket. Door prizes range from astronomy materials and merchandise to telescopes, items from local businesses, and more.

While attending the event is free to the public, the money from the door prize donations will help fund the event.

Interested vendors or door prize donors may contact [email protected].

Everyone planning to attend is encouraged to pre-register online at

For a more detailed schedule of the events, visit Food trucks from the Hickory Sandwich Shop, Dig N Dogs, and Dipperz Mini Donuts will be on site during lunch break around 11:30 a.m. Special planetarium features, including children’s shows and laser shows, will be shown throughout the day in the Millholland Planetarium.

BoBfest is presented by the Cleveland County Astronomical Society, Catawba Science Center, and the Catawba Valley Astronomy Club.

Catawba Science Center is on the SALT Block, 243 Third Ave. NE, Hickory. Call 828-322-8169.

Catawba Science Center is a nonprofit science and technology museum serving North Carolina’s western Piedmont region. Special attractions include temporary exhibits, a digital planetarium theater and marine touch pool and live sharks and stingrays. Learn more at


The New ‘Smart Telescope’ That Lets You Stay Indoors While It Shows You Spectacular Images


It’s a telescope, but not as we know it. Meet the eVscope eQuinox 2, a new so-called “smart telescope” unveiled this week at CES in Las Vegas that adds planets to the roster of what it can image in the night sky.

The annual tech show is mostly known for huge TVs, drones and electric cars, so what is a diminutive telescope doing in the halls of the Sands Hotel?

The eVscope eQuinox 2 is not like most telescopes you will have seen before, probably gathering dust in a friend’s spare bedroom. The eVscope eQuinox 2 has no eyepiece. You cannot look at the night sky through this telescope. Instead of your own eyes collecting the light from distant galaxies, nebula and star clusters those photons go directly to a Sony IMX347 sensor.

The eVscope eQuinox 2 is all about astrophotography, not stargazing—and you can sit indoors while it does its thing and just wait for its images to be delivered to your smartphone.

It’s modelled by French company Unistellar on professional telescopes that are found the world over, usually on mountain tops, which collect light using the giant mirrors before focusing those photos on an image sensor. Hey presto, you get image date of galaxies and anything else astronomers care to point these behemoths at. This is also essentially how space telescopes like Hubble and Webb work.

The follow-up to 2021’s eVscope eQuinox, this second-generation version is not like those professional telescopes, but it is way more slick. A 4.5-inch/114mm reflector telescope with a focal length of 450mm, focal ratio of f/4 and 50x magnification, the eVscope eQuinox 2 weighs 9kg, has a motorized alt-azimuth mount, an 11-hour rechargeable battery and 64GB of storage. It produces 6.2 megapixel images in JPEG or RAW formats. They’re easy to share and easy to post-process, if that’s your thing, but the whole point of the eVscope eQuinox 2 is that it’s autonomous.

You literally just put this smart telescope in your backyard—or even on your balcony in a light-polluted environment—and it gets to work plate-solving, comparing the stars it can see in the sky with a database on its on-board computer. Within a few minutes it’s ready to use.

Using an smartphone app it’s possible to choose from a list of deep sky targets you want the eVscope eQuinox 2 to observe. Each object in its database comes with baked-in settings for exposure times and ISO, so all you really have to do is wait (though you can tinker with the settings if you want).

In fact, you can actually leave the telescope outside and go sit indoors because the live image it produces is shown on the app and continually refreshed. It depends on what you are looking at, but for faint objects such as nebulae, the longer you leave the telescope staring at it, the better the finished image will be. That’s because it’s taking an image every 30 seconds or so, and stacking it on top of the last one, thus producing a cleaner and brighter image as time passes. It’s these algorithms and machine learning that are the secret sauce inside the eVscope eQuinox 2.

I’ve used the original eVscope eQuinox extensively—adoring it mostly for its skill at completely bypassing light pollution—and this new version looks interesting. At $2,499 it’s the company’s most affordable model yet. It now has a new sensor and a slightly wider field of view (34×47 arc minutes). The latter means it can fit larger objects into its field of view, chiefly the Andromeda galaxy and the Moon (though until a firmware update arrives it won’t be primed to take images of our only natural satellite).

However, what’s really interesting about the eVscope eQuinox 2 is a much-anticipated new ability to study and image planets. In stark contrast to the long exposure images it uses to find objects, the incredibly bright orbs of Jupiter, Mars and Saturn are snapped using something called “lucky imaging”. Another technique used by huge ground-based telescopes, this is when astrophotographers continually snap away at an object in the night sky hoping that Earth’s turbulent atmosphere will, just for a split second, settle enough for them for the image to be perfectly exposed, sharp and without any distortion.

“The eQuinox 2 smart telescope puts incredible power in the hands of the general public and inspires a new generation of urban stargazers who can now enjoy an amazing voyage to the universe from their balcony and within minutes. Thanks to its unique technologies and its smart design choices, we are putting space within reach from anywhere, even from light-polluted cities,” said Laurent Marfisi, co-founder and CEO of Unistellar. “Now, novice stargazers and amateur astronomers can enjoy stunning clarity, color, and hard to see details like the striking colors of the Dumbbell Nebula.”

The Unistellar eVscope eQuinox 2 can be pre-ordered now, with shipping expected from mid-February 2023.

Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes