My interest in astronomy
dates back to my childhood in New York where I made frequent
visits to the famous Hayden Planetarium. I remember keenly the
great feelings of excitement and discovery when gazing at the
magnificent astrophotographs produced by the large observatories
of those days. Astronomy and especially astrophotography remained
little more than a dream until I moved from New York City to
Connecticut in 1993. After taking an introductory course in astronomy
at a local college I purchased a pair of binoculars and spent
the next year and a half learning the night sky. I then purchased
my first telescope, a 10" dobsonian with which I spent the
next year observing many deep sky objects whenever the weather
permitted. I have many pleasant memories of my early experiences
using that telescope. I remember the great feeling of accomplishment
and pride upon finding distant galaxies in the eyepiece. This
was surely exciting but deep down I yearned to take images like
the ones I looked at in amazement earlier in my life. My next
purchase was a significant step forward. In 1996 I bought a 10" Schmidt Cassegrain
and a CCD camera. This equipment gave me my start in astroimaging.
My first images of distant galaxies and nebulae were of only
mediocre quality but encouraged me to go forward with color CCD
imaging. I continued to work on and improve my techniques. From
that point on I would say I was hooked on taking astroimages.
My equipment evolved to apochromatic refractors and later to
a Ritchey-Chretien cassegrain.
Early in my imaging
days I was inspired by the great professional astrophotographer
David Malin and by the early black and white images taken with
the 200" at Mt Palomar. I was also greatly impressed with
the aesthetic images being produced by amateurs with more modest
equipment. Images taken by Bill McLaughlin, Al Kelly, Adrian
Catterall, Stan Moore and others demonstrated to me that the
CCD along with digital enhancement techniques could be used to
produce images rivaling film in aesthetic quality but with superior
resolution and contrast. The CCD is indeed a versatile and powerful
imaging instrument. My imaging style evolved in part from studying
both film and CCD images taken by many of the great imagers practicing
today. What I try to achieve is a balance of smoothness and richness
in color, coupled with the best resolution and contrast I can
acquire using my equipment. This requires careful attention to
detail and very long cumulative exposures (often several hours
for a given object). My routine is to devote an entire night
(or sometimes several nights) to imaging a single object. In
this way I can acquire the large amount of data needed to compose
a high quality color image. My favorite part of the process is
watching the image come to life on the computer screen as I assemble
the multitude of individual frames taken during the previous
Although well known
for its scientific value, astronomical imaging also has great
educational and artistic value. The fascinating natural forms
and colors of galaxies, nebulas, and other deepsky objects are
deeply aesthetic and have inspired many to learn more about our
universe. As an art form, recording the natural wonders of the
night sky is deeply rewarding and inspiring.
For over ten years
I imaged from my driveway adjacent to my home. I was lucky to
be living on a dark cul de sac although there was always the
problem of worsening light pollution which made quality imaging
increasingly difficult. In the spring of 2005 an opportunity
arose to image remotely from a dark sky site in New Mexico at
a place owned and operated by Mike and Lynn Rice called New Mexico
Skies. I took this wonderful opportunity and haven't looked back.
In 2007 New Mexico Skies opened an affiliated remote imaging
station in Western Australia which provided me a wonderful opportunity
to image the gems of the southern sky. More recently I've moved
on to creating unique composite images from multiple data sources
by integrating archived professional and amateur data.
During my time in
astrophotography I have had some exciting and rewarding experiences.
I have published five books; "A Year in the Life of the
Universe", "Capturing the Stars: Astrophotography by
the Masters", "Treasures of the Southern Sky"
, "Lessons from the Masters: Current Concepts in Astronomical
Image Processing", and "Breakthrough! 100 Astronomical
Images That Changed the World". Two national stamp Issues
featured my images (UK and German). I was featured in Timothy
Ferris's PBS documentary "Seeing in the Dark". I was
awarded the "Hubble Prize" for contributions to astrophotography
at the Advanced Imaging Conference in San Jose, California. More
recently my image of NGC 3190 (made from the HLA) is the desktop
image for the Apple's OS X "Mountain Lion" 10.8.
has evolved to become a valid and significant art form in its
own right. The rigors of celestial imaging are less well known.
The physical and technical demands are great. Equipment is costly
and experience comes only at the expense of sleep and comfort.
It requires a substantial commitment but pays back in huge rewards.
I can tell you it has enriched my life. I enthusiastically recommend
it to anyone with an interest in the areas of astronomy, imaging,
or computer science as astroimaging is a marriage of these disciplines.
Just a word of caution; after your first successful image be
prepared to be hooked for life!
For additional Biographical
information see this
article in Astronomy Beat (Astronomical Society of the Pacific).