A New Window on the Universe

Images of complex and colorful nebulae, sunspots on the march across our neighborhood star, galaxies drifting in an endless black ocean — these are some of more than 100 photos that members of the Salt Lake Astronomical Society are sharing with the world by way of the Internet.

The gallery was launched on Jan. 18. It is located on the Internet at this site: CLICK HERE

David George-Kennedy posted movies of the planets Mars and Jupiter rotating, with Jovian moons and their shadows making their stately way across the frame. Daniel Turner shows photos of a comet and some members of the society, including its new president, David Bernson.

Tyler Allred weighs in with 11 incredibly detailed images that look almost as if they were shot by the Hubble Space Telescope, ranging from the Pleiades (an easily seen formation of stars and blue nebular wisps that is often called the Seven Sisters) to the eerie glowing wrinkles of the Flaming Star Nebula, to far-off galaxies. One of the most stunning pictures he has shared is a huge portrait of M31, the Andromeda Galaxy, which will collide someday with our own Milky Way Galaxy.

“Nightly News” intends to blog about Allred’s adventures in more depth before he addresses the Society at its February meeting. Stay tuned.

Ken Warner, the webmaster who put together the new gallery, has been programming computers since he was 15, which was 26 years ago; programming is part of his job description today. For many years the Society had a web site where people could post astronomical images but by 2000 it was outdated. Warner, his wife Kathleen and a friend named Frank Bowman revamped it that year, using it largely for scheduling star parties and other events.

The site had a gallery but it was clunky.”People had to send images,” said Warner, a resident of South Jordan. “Then I had to put a web page together and then create thumbnails, and then I had to post them to the web…. And that took time.” Occasionally photographers would email a group of photos with a text document that listed the images, and he would have to try to match the pictures with the descriptions.

Meanwhile, another gallery for the UtahAstronomy discussion group invited astrophotographers to post their pictures and the Society’s gallery became redundant. But last year the UtahAstronomy gallery crashed, the photographs could not be retrieved, and the gallery never returned.

On his own time and dime, Warner set up the new gallery. “I’m really pleased with it,” he said. “I allotted 150 megs (megabytes) for each user. That’ll take somebody a long time to reach.” For perspective, all images in the gallery as of a day or two ago totaled 79 megs.

Members of the group can create their own photo albums, upload pictures to them, write captions, include technical details, and add and delete photos whenever they wish. The pictures are backed up in case of a crash. The views are available to the public to see without charge.

“Honestly, I think astronomical images are probably one of the hardest types of photography to do and do well,” he said. Warner estimates that for every picture in the gallery, “they’ve probably taken 100 others that weren’t so good.”

Patrick Wiggins, NASA solar system ambassador to Utah, is delighted the gallery is helping to bring astronomy to the public, and grateful to Warner for the new showcase. “He basically decided he’d take it on at no charge to the astronomical club.”

The photos range from “kind of simple stuff to incredibly beautiful astronomical images,” he added. At least two astrophotographers joined the club this month so they could display their work in the gallery.

Membership in the Salt Lake Astronomical Society is $20 a year per family and anybody may join regardless of residence. One of the group’s most avid participants is Rob Ratkowski, a professional photographer in Hawaii who helps with the Faulkes Telescope at Haleakala Observatory, Maui. For more information about joining and meetings, see the SLAS web site, located HERE.

The overriding value of the gallery, Wiggins said, is “to show the public just what an amateur can do. Some of this amateur stuff is better than the professionals could do not that many years ago.”

See this galaxy, called NGC 6946, in the new Salt Lake Astronomical Society gallery. NGC 6946 is relatively near our own Milky Way Galaxy at 20 million light-years distance. That means its light travels through space for 20 million years before reaching Earth. I photographed it using my 12-inch diameter telescope with exposures totaling 24 minutes: eight minutes through a red filter, eight through a green filter and eight minutes through a blue filter.

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