Astrophotography: Shooting The Night Sky


(MENAFN- The Peninsula) joelyn baluyut |
The Peninsula

Out there is another world, the black vastness of space bursting with colourful blobs of light, portraits of the planets, the moon, stars, nebulas, and galaxies – a different world, million miles away from where you are.

Astronomy is a broad field, a study of space and everything above us, and since the invention of photography, we seized the darkness of the night sky to capture astonishing, mind-blowing photos, we call it astrophotography.

The Peninsula sat down with one of the only four astrophotographers in the country – Ajith Everester, an Indian expat, at his rooftop observatory in Al Wukair, some 20km away from Doha. He’s been shooting the night sky since 2017.

“Since 2011, I used to photograph birds and animals, and one fine morning my daughter asked me for a telescope to see the planets, so when I saw the planets from the telescope, I asked why can’t we photograph it instead? And from there I started astrophotography.”

Everester started photographing Milky Way.“When you see something, you can also photograph it, this is the concept, so I thought of imaging the planets. I was using my Nikon D4 (SLR camera), then after that, the interest grew, and I wanted to master how to take an astronomical image.”

Ajith Everester at his observatory. Pic: Salim Matramkot/The Peninsula

Viewing his first few photos of the planets, he gleamed and said:“I was astonished, then I thought, yes, let’s do this.”

Five years back, he initially bought a telescope and started upgrading as the years progressed – the biggest he acquired is the sky-watcher telescope which is the largest of its kind at 12 inches, with f4 aperture.

It may look easy for some but doing astrophotography is not a piece of cake.

“You have to invest not only in the camera but filters also, so it can avoid light pollution. A filter costs QR7,000 – you need three of that. So around QR50,000 for the camera and filter altogether.”

Elephant Trunk Nebula

Viewing the images Everester took were dazzling, a unique spectacle, every photo glitters – you wouldn’t even imagine we’re living under these bright astronomical objects.

But this ‘passion’ of his is not a walk in the park, it requires time, patience, and money.

“The recent image took 40 hours to capture, which means three weeks to collect the images alone, but still I haven’t finalised it, I’m not fully satisfied with the colours, so I’m thinking of collecting more data or modifying it – it’s a Nebula,” Everester explained.

The Peninsula asked him among the thousands of images he took, which is the ‘special one’, he responded smiling as he said:“From the first image that I have taken, till this last image that I have photographed, everything is special.”

“If you ask me my favourite, then I’ll tell the latest one – that has the best quality. You don’t really distinguish which is your favourite, but lately, I’ve fallen in love with my recent images with the core of the Heart Nebula, I can tell that is my best image, that’s my best for now,” he said.

Sky imaging through a telescope is more than shooting the stars.“You should know engineering, physics, electronics, you should know everything,” Everester said laughing.

The astrophographer has also been doing seminars, workshops and online sessions, not only in Qatar but also in Oman, United Arab Emirates, to name some. He also has a few Qatari students who are gaining interest in the field and have been coming to his observatory and stargazing.

He also revealed the best places to capture the night in Qatar are Traina and Al Aamriya.“Last Wednesday we went to Traina and watched the meteor shower, there were 15-16 of it, the moon came at 10pm so we couldn’t continue. My wife, who has been supportive of my passion, loves it and my two daughters are enjoying it, it’s our mini-getaway from the bustle of the city.”

When asked for his advice for people who want to start off in this field he said that“astrophotography is a fantastic field, especially for people who are interested in nightlife, not in the sense of clubbing or spending time in the hotels, those who like the night sky.”

And one thing really struck me is his line on having a solitary moment:“If you want to be peaceful, go sit and look at the stars, you will get a lot of energy from that. The feeling of stargazing is something you cannot explain – you have to be there – at the moment.”

“When nobody is around you, only darkness and stars – that is the real peace, you will get plenty of energy to be charged, if you go one weekend out and sit under the stars, the next whole week, you are all charged – that much peace of mind you will get, and that you have to experience. We cannot explain it, I cannot, you have to feel it.”

Take a trip to Jabal Al Shams in Oman or witness the aurora in Iceland


 

The Dubai Astronomy Group is taking giant leaps to bring the unknown closer to humankind and to show us what lies beyond our planet.

Sheeraz Ahmad Awan, General Manager of Dubai Astronomy Group (DAG), believes that knowing about astronomy is a necessity in this day and age. “With the establishment of the UAE space agency, the launch of the hope mission, the Rashid moon rover and the UAE government looking at a future on another planet, understanding astronomy is crucial.”

Over the next year, the Dubai Astronomy Group has an extensive program of workshops, training programs and tours for amateurs and those wanting to dive into space a little deeper. DAG regularly holds Astro tourism workshops upon request from visitors. The tours take place in the desert, and astronomy professionals speak to the participants about the Arabic heritage in astronomy.

“We set up telescopes, and we offer them Arabic hospitality experience. This is part of what we do to promote the Arabic culture and heritage,” said Sheeraz. This year, instead of being limited to private requests, DAG plans to open its Astro tourism activities to the public.

DAG also organises Astro tourism trips to Jabal Al Shams in Oman, Los Angeles, USA and Iceland, where participants will witness the Auroras – the spectacular celestial phenomenon which is featured on most people’s bucket lists.

He said that it is a fact that one of our ancestors was an astronomer because, in the past, it wasn’t a hobby but a necessity. “Understanding astronomy and the stars bring in a full loop. We’re coming back to a point where the understanding of astronomy, space and stars is becoming crucial in developing nations and our civilisation,” he said.

Sheeraz believes that astronomy changes live because it changes minds. “Being able to understand our universe and how massive things are out there gives you an amazing perspective of yourself and what is your size in the bigger scheme of things. It is a humbling experience,” he said.

Those interested in taking their Astrophotography skills one step further than capturing the milky way can also sign up for one of DAG’s newly launched specialised courses.

“We are introducing the Astrophotography program as a public programme as well. We are giving people the opportunity to come and learn directly from an observatory astronomer who is collecting data on a regular basis,” said Sheeraz adding that these courses are more on the research and development side of astronomy, which takes it beyond the hobby status.

Over the years, he said more people expressed interest in basic aspects of astronomy, such as learning how to use the telescope, 3D printing and attending solar system courses. “We also have people express interest in being involved in the research side of things as well. This is why we are creating these programs, which are more extensive and longer than the regular 1-2 day workshops.”

The young audience is also one of their targets. “They are mind blowing. They’re so tuned in to the subject and they would ask you questions that you wouldn’t even imagine so they are also interested in the technical side of things,” he said.

The educational classes which will take place at the Al Thuraya Astronomy Centre include an introduction to astronomy class, a practical astronomy course, Planetary Astrophotography, Pure DSLR Astrophotography and crash courses in Telescope Training, Meteorites, 3D Printing and Paper Modeling. The Astro tourism programs include packages in Arabian astronomy, Greek mythological astronomy and astronomy in ancient civilisations and world major cultures.

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Astrophotography brings out passion and a feeling of permanence for this Colorado Springs woman


Storing telescopes, mounts, tripods and cameras inside their home, the couple takes out all the heavy equipment to their backyard to try and capture an element in our universe not seen by the naked eye. This method of photography is called astrophotography — it goes beyond landscape photography to use a combination of lenses, computers and telescopes to capture a moment in deep space.  

You can go out in the summer and set up a tripod and a camera and a wide angle lens and do a long exposure … and get to see the stars in the Milky Way in the core and some beautiful details of the sky,” Marcus explained. “I would say the biggest difference between that and deep space astrophotography is with deep space astrophotography, you’re looking way closer in on a target.” 

To do that, Marcus and Miles must understand and keep track of what is happening in the sky above and when. Then given those parameters, they pick a target or two for the night, set up their equipment to get it polar aligned and then take long-exposure pictures for as long as possible — often lasting throughout the whole night.  

The idea is to capture a series of long-exposure images, which invite more light into the lens, to gather as much visual data as possible. Marcus and Miles’ equipment keeps them on the target throughout the night as the subject moves across the sky. The series of photos, which will be later layered on top of each other, add more detail to the image.  

As one might imagine, this hobby isn’t best served by partial commitment.  

“If you meet anybody in the astro[photography] community, they’re going to talk about the time that they spent on this,” said Marcus with a smile.  

On top of the time it takes to capture the images overnight, it takes about an hour to set up the equipment and a little bit less than that to take it down. While a lot of technology helps Marcus and Miles, they still must constantly check on the equipment throughout the night.  

“We got up to the observatory property last Friday night at about 7:00 and we left the next morning at 7:30. So, we were there for 12 and a half hours,” said Marcus.  

Marcus and Miles often take the deep space photos from just their backyard, but they also have connected with a person who has an observatory near Florissant, about 11 miles west of Pikes Peak. There they have access to power to operate their equipment, and it’s under a dark sky protected area and at high elevation. These conditions give Marcus and Miles an even better chance of capturing the beauty of the stars above.  

“When I go to a dark sky and I look up and I see these things, these stars, these brighter stars, it’s like I reaffirm that they’re still there as am I. Me and the universe, we’re on the same terms,” said Marcus.  

When Marcus returns to inside her home, she then has the immense task of stacking the images and pulling out the beauty from them. A single image can look like a smattering of stars, but as she is able to put several images together, nebulas, galaxies and other targets really start to take shape.  



Astro Fest is go for launch at Orlando Science Center


ORLANDO, Fla. – The Orlando Science Center is set to captivate young astronomy lovers with a weekend of space-themed events.

Astro Fest kicks off at 11 a.m. Friday, Nov. 19, and lasts through Nov. 20. Daily hours will run from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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Attendees will get immersive experiences such as simulation games, live shows and lab experiments.

Guests can also see an astrophotography exhibit by Derek Demeter, director of Seminole State College’s Emil Buehler Perpetual Trust Planetarium. The exhibition, called “Capturing the Cosmos,” portrays Florida’s night sky and our celestial neighbors in the Solar System.

Admission to Astro Fest is included with your Orlando Science Center admission, meaning ticketholders can add the space-themed fun to everything else offered throughout four floors of exhibits, 3D educational films and live programming.

For more information, and to purchase tickets, click here.


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