Galwegians reach for the stars in astrophotography competition


Three Galway astro-photographers have been chosen for the next stage of the prestigious ‘Reach for the Stars’ astrophotography competition.

David Mackie, from Athenry, Galway has been shortlisted in the ‘Out of this World’ category for two of his images ‘Galaxies through the Dust’ and ‘The Spaghetti Nebula’. Enda O’Loughlin, from Loughrea, Galway, has been shortlisted in the ‘Back on Earth’ category for his image ‘Poulnabrone Arching Milkyway’, and Joe Silke, from Kilcolgan, Galway has been shortlisted in the ‘Back on Earth’ category for his image ‘Leaning into Polaris’.

Run by the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, the competition aims to find the best astro-photographs taken in Ireland over the past year.

While a high-profile judging panel will select the overall winning entries in the coming weeks, an online vote has been for members of the public to have their say. Votes for the Public Choice Award are restricted to one vote per person, and voting will close at midday on Monday June 36.

All shortlisted images can be viewed on the ‘Reach for the Stars’ website,, and members of the public can cast their vote for their favourite image.

There are two categories in the competition: ‘Out of this World’ and ‘Back on Earth’. The ‘Out of this World’ category features images depicting elements of astronomical interest. The ‘Back on Earth’ category features astro-landscape images that depict an element of astronomical interest and elements such as nature, cityscapes, land or water.

The winning images selected by the judging panel and the public vote will be announced in July, and an outdoor exhibition will be staged by DIAS in August to showcase the best images.

Alongside the Public Choice Award for the winner of the online public vote, the overall winners and runners-up will be chosen by the judging panel for ‘Reach for the Stars’, which includes: Professor Peter Gallagher, Head of Astrophysics at DIAS; Brenda Fitzsimons, former photographer at the Galway Advertiser and now picture editor of The Irish Times; John Flannery, vice-president of the Irish Astronomical Society; and Niamh Breathnach, director of Alice Public Relations.

Professor Peter Gallagher of DIAS is “hoping the people of Galway will get involved again this year and cast their vote for their favourite image”.



Kiwi Milky Way images named among world’s best in astrophotography competition


“Winter’s Airglow” – Southern Alps, New Zealand. Photo / Larryn Rae, Capture The Atlas, Milky Way Photographer of the Year

Stargazing might be the most universal of pastimes. At every point on the planet, since ancient times, people have been looking heavenwards for after dark. Looking for our place in the universe. If there’s one unifying cosmological landmark it would have to be the Milky Way.

In China it is referred to as the ‘Heavenly River’, in parts of Eastern Europe it is a ‘Pathway of the Birds’ and sub-Saharan Africa has names including the Backbone of the Sky. Although it has many names it’s a view out on our place in the Galaxy we all share. There is also only one Milky Way of the Year Awards.

Now in its sixth year, the specialist astrophotography award has had submissions from across six continents. Awards hosts Capture The Atlas has published 25 stellar images in their annual shortlist, showing details you’d never see with the bare eye.

Three of which were taken in New Zealand.


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New Plymouth-based Brendan Larsen found his perfect view of the milky way over the photogenic Mt Taranaki. Determined to get the perfect shot the camera was angled towards the maunga to align with the star belt at 2.30am.

“I’m really pleased with how many colours I was able to capture with my camera, filters, and long exposures,” said Larsen.

“Milky Way Rising over Stony River & Mt Taranaki” – 
Taranaki, New Zealand. Photo / Brendan Larsen, Capture The Atlas, Milky Way Photographer of the Year
“Milky Way Rising over Stony River & Mt Taranaki” –
Taranaki, New Zealand. Photo / Brendan Larsen, Capture The Atlas, Milky Way Photographer of the Year

Larryn Rae was another Kiwi photographer staying up late in the mountains for the perfect shot.

“This was some of the craziest airglow I have ever seen! Airglow is when atoms get charged and excited in the upper atmosphere by the sun and emit this wonderful colour and cloud-like pattern.” The veteran Auckland-based photographer had been shortlisted in previous years.


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Larryn wasn’t the only photographer to capture a night sky tinged with the Southern lights.

18-year-old Tom Rae was photographing the skies over Lake Tekapo when – to his delight – dancing lights formed on the horizon.

“Celestial Radiance” – 
Lake Tekapo, New Zealand. Photo / Tom Rae, Capture The Atlas, Milky Way Photographer of the Year
“Celestial Radiance” –
Lake Tekapo, New Zealand. Photo / Tom Rae, Capture The Atlas, Milky Way Photographer of the Year

“Midway through my Milky Way panorama, a faint glow appeared on the horizon—my first aurora! What followed was a spectacular light show of flowing beams and vibrant colours.” The young photographed described his “limited time photographing the night sky” has been both “awe inspiring”, if sometimes frustrating.

While the starry view of the Milky Way was a unifying theme judge Dan Zafra was looking for local landmarks and recognisable locations to ground the astral scenes.

Apart from New Zealand’s Southern Alps other earthly backdrops included Patagonian Chile’s Torres del Paine and the alien-looking bottle trees of Socotra – near Yemen.

“Modern cameras can capture vibrant details and colours in the night sky beyond what our eyes can see,” said Zafra. “However, what really matters in any great image is the photographer behind the camera, who provides the idea, plan, and creativity to bring the image to life.”

Capture The Atlas, Milky Way Photographer of the Year
Capture The Atlas, Milky Way Photographer of the Year

“Celestial Shield” – Ávila, Spain. Photo / Iván Ferrero, Capture The Atlas, Milky Way Photographer of the Year
“Celestial Shield” – Ávila, Spain. Photo / Iván Ferrero, Capture The Atlas, Milky Way Photographer of the Year

“The Night Train” - Graubünden, Switzerland. Photo / Alexander Forst, Capture The Atlas, Milky Way Photographer of the Year
“The Night Train” – Graubünden, Switzerland. Photo / Alexander Forst, Capture The Atlas, Milky Way Photographer of the Year


Samsung Galaxy S21 owner? Love to snap the stars? You just got this awesome Galaxy S22 mode


Samsung Galaxy S21, Galaxy S21+, and Galaxy S21 Ultra users have just got the awesome feature that first came on the Galaxy S22 – the astrophotography mode. This feature enables users to capture stunning long-exposure shots of the stars and sky and it was first introduced in the Samsung Galaxy S22 series and has been carried over to the latest Galaxy S23 series. But now users of some other Samsung phones are set to experience this astrophotography camera mode! As per a report by SamMobile, the Expert RAW app is now available for users of Samsung Galaxy S21, Galaxy S21+, and Galaxy S21 Ultra.

In April 2023, the Galaxy S21 series was updated with a significant 1GB update that included various improvements to the Camera and Gallery apps, among which the astrophotography feature stood out as a noteworthy move. Not just Galaxy S21 series, Samsung plans to bring astrophotography support to other flagship devices, such as the Galaxy S20 series and Galaxy Z Fold, via the Expert RAW app in the near future, the report added. However, no timeline has been revealed so far.

Meanwhile, know how to use this feature on Samsung Galaxy S21 phones.

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mobile to buy?

How to use astrophotography mode on Samsung Galaxy S21 series

  • The Samsung Galaxy S21, S21+, and S21 Ultra users can try this feature. All you need to do is download the latest version of Expert RAW from the Galaxy Store.
  • To access the astrophotography mode, it is essential to have the April 2023 security update installed on your phone.
  • Ensure that your device has been updated to the latest firmware by navigating to the Settings > Software update menu.
  • Once you have downloaded the update, you will find a new icon for the astrophotography mode on the in-app toolbar.
  • To use the astrophotography mode, ensure that you have enabled the Special photo options slider. Additionally, turning on RAW photos is recommended as it allows for the capture of the maximum amount of detail.
  • Before getting too excited, make sure the night sky is clear and there is little to no light pollution.
  • Not just photography, the mode also helps you find the location of constellations when you point the camera at the night sky.


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.”


Southern Illinois astrophotographer captures the night sky in these incredible images


Few things in this world are more beautiful than the night sky. But, because of the ever increasing light pollution, few have seen the night sky in all its photogenic glory. One local man is putting his technical expertise to use bringing heavenly beauty to Southern Illinois. 

“I think that people really enjoy seeing my astrophotography because it is getting harder and harder to experience,” said John O’Connell, a local astrophotographer and teacher, who is also a PhD student in zoology at SIU that centers on digital mapping and aerial imagery. “I am lucky to live in Southern Illinois where light pollution is relatively low compared to major cities, but it still has enough that it washes out our view of many stars.”

O’Connell says that light pollution is only continuing to increase around the world, but with long exposures and advanced photo processing, he says he can show people what they are missing with their eyes.”

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And what the naked eye misses is awesome. O’Connell’s astro-art takes its inspiration from the artist’s enthusiasm for the night sky. “There might be as many reasons to enjoy astrophotography as there are stars in the sky, but it does have several aspects that I particularly enjoy. First, I grew up in Miami, FL where I could count the stars. For me to walk outside in Southern Illinois and see so many stars that I could never dream of counting them all just blows me away every time,” O’Connell said. 

Take, for instance, his “Grassy Bay Milky Way” which is featured this month at the Artspace 304 gallery, in the exhibit “Nature,” which showcases the beauty of Southern Illinois in a variety of media. The scene immerses you literally right in the water of the Crab Orchard Lake, and among the lotus fields which sprung up during the once-in-a-decade lowering of the water levels. O’Connell describes how he enjoyed exploring the banks with his photography colleagues by boat, but decided to get a closer look.  

“I then walked about 30 yards from the boat in knee-to-waist deep muck with about 6 inches of water on top. Of course, I forgot something in the boat and had to do the trip twice! I set my tripod with the camera close to the water to capture the trio of lotus at the bottom of the image complete with the water drops that were beaded up on top,” O’Connell said. 

What was captured over dozens of exposures and several panoramic stitching’s is a cosmic vision from the very humble but mystical lotus leaves of Southern Illinois. Light dances off the leaves as your eye traces them into infinity to the horizon, a darkened mass of trees in the distance. Just there at the darkest point of the photograph, a soothing orange glow rises up from the dark horizon into a galactic display of the Milky Way stood on end, pointing higher and higher as if to summon our vision beyond Southern Illinois lowlands whence it originated to the stars above and beyond to the furthest reaches of reality. The photograph is simply a masterpiece of art, both technically flawless and aesthetically rich, and, what’s most important, spiritually enlightening. We are called from the mud, the slime of the earth, to the stars, or from humility to a homeland among the stars.  

O’Connell has honed his photography art through countless hours reading and watching video tutorials, and trial and error, and now he wants to share his proven knowledge with others, even if it costs him.  

“I know that there are many people who want to capture the amazing night sky in Southern Illinois, so I put together a workshop, along with some fellow night photographers, to help people get started in that endeavor. Our focus will be on landscape astrophotography in particular, meaning pairing the sky with a foreground scene. My goal is that everyone will have the tools that they need to go out on their own and capture the Milky Way,” O’Connell said, who jokes that it is somewhat risky sharing his knowledge, because he is training tomorrow’s competition, but he says he maintains a collaborative and supportive mentality nevertheless. “Further, I liken photography to a journey, one in which I can give people some skills to help them navigate their own route and to their own goals, but not turn-by-turn directions to duplicate my work or style. Besides, where’s the fun in that?!”

O’Connell says that he hopes his art brings the viewer joy, happy memories, calm, wonder, or other pleasant feelings – like, for this viewer, spiritual enlightenment.    

“I love hearing from people when I am able to evoke positive emotions in them through my photography. There are plenty of worries in the world, so I hope that my art, whether purchased as a print or enjoyed for free on Facebook, helps make their day better.”

For those who just want to learn photography in general, O’Connell also hosts a free Beginner Outdoor Photography workshops at the Giant City State Park visitor’s center every few months, the next one being July 8. With limited seats are reservations are required, so contact Giant City State Park to claim a spot: (618) 457-4836.

For information about O’Connell’s advanced astrophotography course, go to his website or message him on his Facebook, JohnOConnellPhotography, or, if for nothing else, to see this local artist’s amazing photographs!  


samsung: Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra review: All about improvements


Samsung’s premium flagship smartphone, the S23 Ultra, is its most powerful offering, with substantial and practical improvements. Here’s a lowdown on what works and what doesn’t.

Big Plus
The smartphone’s familiar industrial design with sharp edges and flat rails makes it comfortable to hold despite a massive 6.8-inch Edge Dynamic AMOLED 2X QHD+ display. It also has a solid build quality.

Best Point
Its design may be similar from previous iterations, but the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chipset is powerful and power efficient. It handles everything you throw at it. The new 200-megapixel sensor is another major improvement. Samsung has also made some changes to the entire camera’s processing. As a result, it captures more light, provides better details, offers rich portraits, and is impressive for low-light photographs.

Standout Feature
The S Pen is one feature that stands out and is the key differentiator of the S23 Ultra. Besides, its new Astrophotography mode and 50-megapixel expert RAW features are other worthy improvements.

The X-factor
The Galaxy S23 Ultra is equipped with two dedicated telephoto lenses, – MP sensors, and 3x and 10x telephoto zoom. The zoom quality is unparalleled and produces a sharp and colour-rich output.

What Could Have Been Better
It only offers Wi-Fi 6E, while even other relatively affordable smartphones offer Wi-Fi 7 support. It could also have been priced lower.

Should I Go For It?
Definitely, if you are a power user and looking for all the bells and whistles in a smartphone. Starting at Rs 1,24,999, the Galaxy S23 Ultra offers an impressive display, camera, performance, and battery. It is a no-brainer for anyone looking for a premium Android phone.


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


Tinian ‘Astro Dad’ captures the magic of the night sky | Lifestyle


Tinian’s skies are an astronomy lovers’ dream. With the island’s absence of light pollution, the night sky lights up with constellations and glimpses of majestic beauty.

Since 2020, astrophotographer Joshua Brazzle has refined the art of capturing photos of space.

Tinian "Astro Dad" captures the magic of the night sky

Joshua Brazzle is shown with his wife, Mary Hocog-Brazzle, and their daughter, Ke’alohi Lani Brazzle.

Brazzle had been interested in astronomy since childhood, but he took his passion to the next level after stumbling upon YouTube videos about astrophotography, which morphed into his lockdown hobby when the pandemic prompted the community to stick closer to home.

To create his photographs, Brazzle uses an Orion 8-inch Newtonian reflector telescope, and sky view pro-mount using a DSLR camera.

The mount “tracks the rotation of Earth once you switch it on,” Brazzle explained.

Using the DSLR camera, which is screwed on to the telescope’s eyepiece, Brazzle takes numerous photos.

“So what you’re doing is pretty much taking faint light, that’s millions of light years away, and then you have to take so many exposures,” he said.