Our Focus this month is on Nicole Mortillaro. She is a children's book editor and author, and self proclaimed "nerd"! Her book, Saturn: Exploring the Mystery of the Ringed Planet, focuses on the impact of Cassini-Huygens probe on our understanding of Saturn and her moons.
Her talks at places like the Ontario Science Centre and the David Dunlap Observatory have helped bring remote imaging into spotlight.
Like all of us here, I love the night sky. I love our universe. And I yearn to see more. Not only see it, but capture it. One of the benefits of being able to do that is to share it with others. Today, most of humanity lives in dense areas rife with light pollution. They can’t see the thick bulge of the Milky Way or the Orion nebula or the Andromeda Galaxy; what they get is a smattering of stars that they can probably count. So the night sky is mostly ignored, and people are ignorant about the beauty of the universe and what exists beyond the few stars they see. How sad is that? So why not show them what’s out there?
It was last winter when my friend, a professional astronomer, suggested that I try remote astrophotography after I was lamenting about the highly cloudy winter we were experiencing in Toronto, Canada. It was one of the best suggestions I have ever received.
So it was New Year’s Eve, 2011, when I first logged on to what was then called Global-Rent-a-Scope. Yep. That’s how I rang in my new year. And it was great.
Now, aside from a couple of what I shall call “learning experiences” with my own telescope and a DSLR, I had no idea what I should or could do with a CCD camera (what the heck was NABG and ABG??). So my first time out I used the “one-click image” option on what is my favourite nebula, M42, and was giddy when I saw the result.
But wait . . . I knew I could do more. I didn’t know a lot about CCD imaging, but I did know about stacking. So I started slowly: first the Pleiades, then M81, then bigger, to the Horsehead Nebula, taking multiple images of each target. And I was learning! Pretty fast, I thought. Don’t get me wrong: I experienced the same frustration any new astrophotographer does.
I swear, processing the Horsehead moved me to tears. But I didn’t give up. In fact, it made me more determined than ever to get better results. And over the past 10 months I think I’ve made incredible strides. The people at iTelescope have been generous and kind and so helpful (and I also have to thank my friend, Paul Mortfield for all his help, too): it’s made a big difference.
Now, I know some amateur astronomers who think remote astrophotography is somehow “cheating.” They can think that all they want. Remote astrophotography allows you to utilize the best equipment in the best conditions. How can that be cheating? It’s called making the most of what is available to you. iTelescope has telescopes and CCD cameras I can only ever dream of owning. This allows me to work with the best. And that’s not to say I am not going out and trying my hand at my own astrophotography with my 8”. But this way I am not driving hours out of town to get a glimpse of what are only less light-polluted skies. I don’t have to freeze my behind off to get great seeing (because, really, in Canada, we have to wait for winter and, well, it gets pretty bloody cold). And what I am really excited about is the opening of the southern telescopes. How incredible will it be that I’ll be able to image things I can’t even see in my part of the world?
As a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Toronto Centre (RASC), I was approached to give a presentation to members about remote astrophotography. Not a lot of people were aware that that option was available to them. So now my mission was two-fold: appeal to the general public and also educate fellow amateur astronomers about the benefits of remote astrophotography.
I feel that it’s important that people realize that astrophotography is not just for the rich. And this is the beauty of remote astrophotography: it allows you to work with the best without bankrupting you. And I’ve had a wonderful time utilizing iTelescope’s resources. I figure if I can do it, with very little experience, anyone can.
I have shared my images with friends and family who are always in awe. They are amazed at what is out there. And I’m happy to show them. I also know that some members of RASC have joined iTelescope and now know what is available to them. I’m happy that I’ve been able to educate both groups.