MHCC show presents astronomy by Everyman
If You Go
What: "Amateur Astronomers Photograph The Night Sky With Amazing Results"
When: 6 and 7:15 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 5, and Friday, Nov. 8,
Where: Mt. Hood Community College Planetarium Sky Theater, 26000 S.E. Stark St.
Admission: $5, adults; $2, MHCC students and children 17 and younger.
For the next Mt. Hood Community College Planetarium presentation, Director Pat Hanrahan is turning attention away from Hubble Space Telescope-generated images to focus on what amateur astronomy photographers have captured.
"While amateurs use much smaller telescopes and have to deal with our atmosphere, they still make some amazing photographs," he said.
Hanrahan will present "Amateur Astronomers Photograph The Night Sky With Amazing Results," at 6 and 7:15 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 5, and Friday, Nov. 8, at MHCC's Planetarium Sky Theater, 26000 S.E. Stark St., Gresham.
He will highlight the work of some of the best amateur astronomers both locally and from around the world and speak about techniques for those who want to take nighttime pictures themselves.
Hanrahan took time to address some questions from The Outlook on the fall presentation.
Outlook: What inspired this particular theme? Have you featured amateur astronomers before?
Pat Hanrahan: This is the first time that I've featured amateur astronomers doing photography. My initial inspiration for this theme was from the last time that I was at Cape Kennedy (2009). At that time, they had an interesting exhibit at their visitor center. In one large exhibit room, they had one side of the room devoted to Hubble Space Telescope images and the other side of that room to images from amateur astronomers. They were both beautiful.
Personally, I have been interested in photography since I was in high school and part of my experiments included taking time exposures of the night sky to show star trails.
Outlook: Do you know a lot of amateur "space" photographers?
Hanrahan: Yes, as a member of the Rose City Astronomers (RCA), I've been active with a number of astrophotographers. I regularly see them in the field and have attended (and taught) astrophotography at OMSI where they meet. Some of the photographs that I show have been taken by Greg Marshall, who is the leader of the Astro-Imaging Special Interest Group of RCA. Their group meets in Beaverton.
Actually, anyone who points their camera at the night sky can be (an astrophotographer). In fact, I find that some of the most interesting photographs come from people who only use a camera with a wide angle lens sitting on a tripod. They can show the Milky Way and constellations with interesting subjects in the foreground. Then, there are the serious photographers with large telescopes and lots of other gadgets. They can get images of obscure objects that are absolutely amazing.
There may be about 50 or more people doing this in the greater Portland area. And I know many others that I met from around the world.
Outlook: What factors have led to there being more amateur astronomers capturing images?
Hanrahan: Probably the main factor was the advent of the digital camera (roughly around the advent of the 21st century). Film photography was much harder as film was not nearly as sensitive. This same factor revolutionized professional astrophotographers about a decade earlier.
Outlook: What aspects of the night sky are more difficult for amateurs to capture?
Hanrahan: Astronomers are famous for searching out "faint, fuzzy" objects. These turn out to be distant galaxies, star clusters, and gas/plasma clouds where new stars are being born and die. So, the fainter and more diffuse objects are the hardest to image … and often, the most interesting. Some amateurs have even discovered things that the professionals have missed, such as unknown dwarf galaxies and evidence for comets striking Jupiter.
Hanrahan: My interest in astrophotography has been in learning how someone can simplify doing this hobby. I have been relatively successful in finding shortcuts by breaking the rules. I use high equivalent "film" speeds (ISO). I also ignore things that you are supposed to do (like using guiding) to perfect imaging. And I've enjoyed talking with other photographers and hearing of their methods. I enjoy doing both wide-field astrophotography (only a camera on a tripod) and telescope astrophotography. For the latter, I simply connect my camera to my telescope, but I have my camera connected to a laptop so I can see what I'm imaging.
Outlook: Why is fall a good time to gaze upward on clear nights?
Hanrahan: Fall is nice as the nights are getting longer and temperatures and clouds are often not nearly as much of a problem as those during the winter. And if you stay up late enough, you have plenty of time to observe the area around Orion. During the early evening you can find our nearest major galaxy (Andromeda) and other really interesting objects.
Outlook: Is there anything else you would like to share about this presentation?
Hanrahan: In spite of all that I said about my work, the majority of the pictures that I will show are from photographers that do much better than I do. Their work really is amazing and you may have trouble figuring out whether their images are theirs or from the Hubble Space Telescope.
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