Spectacular Views — Indoors

Master astrophotographer Tyler Allred will show stunning space views Tuesday night during the monthly meeting of the Salt Lake Astronomical Society. All are welcome to attend the session, which begins 7:30 p.m. in the University of Utah’s Engineering/Mines Classroom Building, Room 105.

The group has posted a view of the location AT THIS SITE.

[This photo by Tyler Allred shows the Flame and Horsehead nebulas.]

Allred, a resident of Tremonton, Box Elder County, comes by his skills almost by inheritance. His father, Glenn Allred, worked at Utah State University’s Space Dynamics Laboratory, Logan. “I was exposed to space from a research side early on,” he said. When he was a youngster, his dad bought a bomb sight at a surplus sale, tore it apart, and extracted a lens about 4.5 inches in diameter. “We built a refractor (telescope) out of it,” he recalled.

“We used to pack it out to the backyard. He just built a mount from a tractor axle.” They would screw the homemade telescope onto the mount and observe the heavens from their home in Richmond, Cache County.

Later, Glenn Allred built an observatory in the backyard and installed a 14-inch-diameter telescope. While the USU observatory had to fight light pollution, the sky was dark at Richmond and professors from the university would shepherd students to the Allreds’ home. “We had the same ‘scope (as the university did, but) way better seeing,” he said. “We had astronauts and everybody else come out over the years.”

After he married, the family was too poor for years to afford astronomical equipment and he fell away from the pursuit of ancient light. But as a river restoration expert, he began making a better salary. About eight years ago he realized he could afford to resume this interest, and began buying equipment.

“It fascinates me to see what I can see with my eye, and then put a camera on the same object and see how much is there,” he said. The astrophotography bug bit hard.

When a person looks through a telescope, unless it’s enormous, no color will be seen except that of the stars. A spectacular nebula will show up in shades of gray – often dim gray. A galaxy may be barely detectable. However, with a long-exposure photograph through the same telescope, subtle detail and sometimes startling colors emerge.

Allred bought a modest eight-inch diameter catadioptric telescope and began taking pictures of the moon and planets. He needed only a computer and a web camera with an adapter for the eyepiece. The process is relatively simple and can be used even with a telescope that doesn’t track the stars. The photographer makes a video of the target then uses free software to weed out the blurry frames. When the software stacks dozens of the better frames, a nice image is the result.

Soon Allred purchased more pricey telescopes and CCD cameras. Today he shoots exotic celestial targets, telescope tracking precisely for exposures that generally range from five minutes to ten minutes apiece.

“I shoot a lot of actually fairly low power (magnification) shots. Lots of the objects in the sky are big. Basically they take up a big area, but they’re super-dim.”

Assisting in this work are the dark skies of Tremonton. The family moved there about two years ago from Orem. The change was a vast improvement; it meant Allred did not need to drive long distances for good views. “You could go out at night in Orem and see a dozen stars. That’s it.”

To make a fine color photo, he often accumulates in the range of three to five hours of exposures. He would like to buy a camera with a huge image chip because it would show more of the sky, and his telescope has a large enough field to accommodate it. But everyone’s budget has limitations.

“When you start thinking about upgrading you usually have to upgrade everything. And that gets really expensive. I would describe this hobby as a bottomless pit,” he said.

He and his wife, Deanna, have four daughters. Sometimes one or another will peer through the telescope. Deanna will come onto the back porch while he is making photos and chat with him. But, he said, “This is more of a solitary hobby.”

When his camera takes an exposure, it is always recorded in black, white and gray. A series of clear, or non-filtered, images are used for the luminosity value of the final product. Black and white photos exposed through red, green and blue filters provide the color. Not only does he acquire detailed, sharp images, but he is talented in the tough job of assembling them into fine color photographs.

He intends to take his equipment to Tuesday’s talk so the audience can see what he works with, and to project some of his pictures and give a lesson in image processing.

“I may not actually hook up all the cables, because it’s a nightmare,” he said of the gear. Still, he plans to show telescope, camera and specialized mount “so that people can see the basic setup.”

Allred has set up a web page with many examples of his work. Connect to it BY CLICKING HERE.

To get a notion of the amount of detail in his photos, check out a large version of his Flame and Horsehead nebulas image POSTED HERE.

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