A PIXELATED UNIVERSE- ASTROPHOTOGRAPHY

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Ashwini

Hi! I'm a student at NIT-Trichy. A passionate, instinctive person. Unpredictability is me! I like reading, writing, playing guitar, tennis etc etc. Ha! Ha! I try my hand at everything!
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Terrestrial photography may provide a wide scope- from the tallest mountains to the tiniest organisms. But to be truly limitless, one has to go beyond the planet. Astrophotography involves recording images of astronomical images and large areas of the night sky. Not surprisingly, the first celestial body to be photographed was the moon in 1840. But it’s not just the Sun, moon and the planets that are captured. Astrophotography can make objects invisible to the human eye visible such as dim stars, galaxies and nebulae. Apart from scientific research, it’s also used in amateur astronomy for aesthetically appealing images and as a hobby.

Making the invisible visible

Astronomical photography has diversified into sub disciplines that include star cartography, astrometry, stellar classification and the discovery of astronomical objects such as asteroids, meteors, comets and even exoplanets (planets outside our solar system). In 2009, an analysis of images dating back to 2003 revealed a planet orbiting Beta Pictoris. And in 2012, a “Super-Jupiter” planet orbiting Kappa Andromedae was directly imaged using the Subaru Telescope in Hawaii.It orbits its parent star at a distance of about 55 astronomical units, or nearly twice the distance of Neptune to the sun.

Finding the Unknown

Remote Telescope astrophotography is a means for amateur astronomers not aligned with major telescope facilities to partake in research and deep sky imaging. It enables the imager to control a telescope a large distance away in a dark location. The observers can image through the telescopes using CCD (Charge-coupled Device) cameras. Imaging can be done regardless of the location of the user or the telescopes they wish to use. The digital data collected by the telescope is then transmitted and displayed to the user by means of the Internet. The Bareket Observatory is one such example.

In 2009, Yale University announced that astronomers from around the world helped scientists discover a group of rare galaxies called the “Green Peas” in a project called Galaxy Zoo. Volunteers and amateur astronomers helped classify galaxies by sifting through an online database of images. The project was launched in 2007 by a team of astronomers in the U.K. and involved about 230,000 volunteers from around the world. Galaxy Zoo volunteers identified a number of unusual galaxies which were named “Green Peas” because of their small size and bright green colour. According to a press release from Yale, the galaxies, though 10 times smaller than the Milky Way galaxy and 100 times less massive, are forming stars 10 times faster than our galaxy.

So it’s not just astronomers and scientists who take to astrophotography. Amateurs can prove their worth as well. Images such as star-trails can be taken with minimal equipment. But it’s a tough task and requires an infinite amount of patience. Yet, if astrophotographers are to be believed, it’s completely worth it. Images from the Hubble Space Telescope, spectacular though they are, do not include personal experience. Its one thing to download images of Saturn’s wings from the internet and quite another to click them yourself. So get your telescope and camera, and start clicking! A pixelated universe is yours!

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