Reaching for the night sky.

Some of you might not know this about me, but back in the day I studied astronomy at the University of Manitoba.  There was of course the necessary prerequisite knowledge that we studied in the lecture hall, but as we got further into the program we were able to literally take our studies to the stars.

Twice a week I would head out with a team of students to the Glenlea Astronomical Observatory to log time on an immense telescope pointed at the dark night sky.  Taking observations over many months, we could analyze the changes in different wavelengths in light to identify and study supernovas, relatively unstudied galaxies (there is a lot to look at up there, and so much is still unstudied!), and the sorts.

The telescope tracked (ie: moved) along with the stars so you could take long exposures without the light sources turning into streaks caused by the movement of the earth, and the camera was cooled to very low temperatures to help reduce the noise (the static look that images taken in dark situations take on) in the images it captured.  I wasn’t deep into photography yet, but the complexity of taking photographs this way really forced me to learn about light.

That was over a decade ago now, and technology has come a long way since then.  The types of images we see coming out of space organizations these days are miles ahead of what we used to be able to capture, but I still am fond of the low-resolution photos of distant galaxies I’ve saved on my hard drive.  Despite manually creating and subtracting averaged bias, dark, and flat frames, the technology was definitely a limiting factor for this sort of distant observation.  Okay, enough astrophotography geekery: I’ve included a colored image of the spiral galaxy NGC 3184, which I studied extensively in this previous life.

Flash forward to today and I no longer see pages out of an astrophysics textbook when I lay down in a field and look up at the night sky.  I’m back to gazing up with wonder, much like I used to as a child.

This is all on my mind today because of a new piece of equipment I just added to my kit: a teleconverter!  It’s a piece of glass that fits between a camera and lens, and essentially is an extra magnifier that allows me to get closer to a subject I otherwise wouldn’t be able to.  In anticipation of heading back to Churchill this summer, I was looking for a way to get some extra reach out of my camera kit and this fit the bill.  Pointing this telescope-ish setup at the full moon seemed like a good way to test it out and so I headed out of town with a fellow photographer to howl at it.  Check out some of these first images.

Clouded Sunset

In the distance, the sunset is shrouded by clouds but beams of light hint at the fire behind. Beautiful, but hopes were running thin that we would be able to see the moon amidst the cloud cover on this night.

Moon Closeup

In a moment between the rolling clouds, the full moon made an appearance for about ten seconds. Luckily, the camera (and me!) were ready to snap a portrait of it.

NGC 3184 Spiral Galaxy

An image of NGC 3184 Spiral Galaxy from 2008.  I colored the image to highlight H II regions.