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Photography Science

Brilliant Solar Flares and the Northern Lights Appear in the Astronomy Photographer of the Year Shortlist

August 2, 2021

Grace Ebert

“The Magnetic Field of our Active Sun” by Andrew McCarthy. All images courtesy of Royal Museums Greenwich, shared with permission

A trippy shot of the psychedelic California Nebula, a panorama of the Milky Way sprawling above French lavender crops, and a phenomenal glimpse of the sun’s magnetic field bursting after a solar flare are a few of the stellar images on the 2021 Astronomy Photographer of the Year shortlist. Hosted by Royal Museums Greenwich for the past 13 years, the annual contest garnered more than 4,5000 images of the green lights of the Aurora, distant nebula, and other galactic sights from entrants in 75 countries. The winner will be announced on September 16 prior to the National Maritime Museum’s exhibition of the works opening on September 18. You can see more of the top photos on the contest site. (via Kottke)

 

“Harmony” by Stefan Liebermann

“Iceland Vortex” by Larryn Rae

“Alien Throne” by Marcin Zajac

“California Dreamin’ NGC 1499” by Terry Hancock

“Milky Way rising over Durdle Door” by Anthony Sullivan

“Break of a New Day” by Nicholas Roemmelt

 

 



Amazing Photography Science

An Enormous Mosaic Spanning 1,250 Hours of Exposure Time Captures the Milky Way in Incredible Detail

March 17, 2021

Grace Ebert

The Tulip nebula. All images © J-P Metsavainio, shared with permission

Twelve years and 1,250 hours of exposure time later, Finnish photographer J-P Metsavainio stitched together a massive, 1.7-gigapixel composite detailing every fiery burst and starry expanse dotting the Milky Way. The stellar mosaic documents the 125-degree stretch between Taurus to Cygnus and is comprised of 234 individual images that extend across 10,000 pixels. Nearly 20 million stars are visible in the expanse.

The ongoing project began in 2009, and Metsavainio knew it would take at least a decade to realize. “As a visual artist, the composition of the image means a lot. During the years, I have shot hundreds of individual targets from the Milky Way. Each image taken is an independent artwork. At the same time, I always kept in my mind the needs of the final large composition,” the photographer said, noting that he captured the more pronounced elements, like supernovae, first before filling in the gaps.

After shooting with relatively short focal length instruments the last few years, Metsavainio plans to use this incredibly high-resolution panorama as a map as he shifts to longer focal length tools in the coming months. Find details on Metsavainio’s entire process, along with specifics on the equipment used, on his site, where you also can find a larger portfolio of his galactic projects. (via PetaPixel)

 

The full composite image in mapped colors from the light emitted by ionized elements. Hydrogen = green, sulfur = red, and oxygen = blue. (click to zoom)

The 125-degree stretch from Taurus to Cygnus

Detail of Wolf Rayet Shell around the star WR 134

California Nebulam NGC 1499

Sharpless 124 & the Cocoon Nebula

 

 



Photography Science

Enhance! Explore the Orion Constellation in Astounding Detail with This 2.5 Gigapixel Image That Took Five Years to Complete

October 28, 2020

Grace Ebert

Full image of “Project Orion.” All images © Matt Harbison, shared with permission

For the past five years, Chattanooga-based astrophotographer Matt Harbison has poured more than 500 hours into capturing the minute details of the Orion constellation, an immense undertaking that’s culminated in a stunning 2.5 gigapixel image. In its entirety, “Project Orion” is composed of 2,508 individual shots meticulously stitched together into a fiery, star-studded mosaic.

In a statement about the monumental project, Harbison writes that his fascination with the neblua began in childhood during camping trips and Boy Scout excursions and later, as he drove to high school and college. Orion “was always there, seemingly inconspicuous.  I have always felt a connection to this cosmic way-finder. Big decisions and events in my life came and went, yet those stars seemed to always find their way into my consciousness,” he says.

 

A close-up of “Project Orion”

Harbison began by photographing Andromeda in 2011 before shifting his focus to Orion in 2013. He traveled from Tennessee to Texas to capture the nebula at various points and often camped out with a group of astrophotographers in ice fishing tents. He explains the lengthy process:

The image posed many problems from the start—balancing differing sky conditions per night, aligning to the same star position each and every night, and meticulously returning to a position just a few thousand pixels North, South, East, or West. Aside from the challenge of software, there were also the continual hardware problems and challenging weather conditions in East Tennessee. Sure, there are some good nights, but there are some not so good nights as well.

After gathering hundreds of individual shots, Harbison realized he needed to update his equipment as the scope of the image grew—for specifics on the telescopes, cameras, and software used, check out this statement. “The project amasses a total of 44 TB across 21 hard drives, 7 laptops, and 3 desktops, with my 4th and final desktop recently completed,” he says.

Now finished, the composite image is available for exploration on Harbison’s site. Follow him on Instagram and YouTube, where he shares his space-centric findings, and check out this video to dive deeper into his process. (via PetaPixel)

 

A close-up of “Project Orion”

A close-up of “Project Orion”

 

 



Photography Science

Mesmerizing Shots of Distant Galaxies and Aurorae Top the Astronomy Photographer of the Year Contest

September 16, 2020

Grace Ebert

“Andromeda Galaxy at Arm’s Length?” © Nicolas Lefaudeux (France), galaxies winner and overall winner. “Have you ever dreamt of touching a galaxy? This version of the Andromeda Galaxy seems to be at arm’s length among clouds of stars. Unfortunately, this is just an illusion, as the galaxy is still 2 million light-years away. In order to obtain the tilt-shift effect, the photographer 3D-printed a part to hold the camera at an angle at the focus of the telescope. The blur created by the defocus at the edges of the sensor gives this illusion of closeness to Andromeda.”

The 2020 Insight Investment Astronomy Photographer of the Year contest gathers a trove of sublime shots capturing otherwise unseen phenomena and distant fixtures of outer space. With more than 5,000 entries from six continents, the 12th annual competition includes Nicolas Lefaudeux’s photograph of the Andromeda Galaxy two million light-years away, one by Rafael Schmall that frames the lit trails of Elon Musk’s Starlink satellites, and another of the Aurora Borealis reflecting on the ice by Kristina Makeeva (previously).

Starting October 23, 2020, the top photographs will be on display at the National Maritime Museum. Until then, pick up a copy of this year’s book that collects all 140 winning and shortlisted shots, and explore some of Colossal’s favorites below.

 

“Iceland “© Kristina Makeeva (Russia) aurorae highly commended. “Winters in Iceland require some training in terms of wind protection equipment. Iceland is a country with very strong winds, so a stable tripod is required to shoot the aurora. Many astrophotographers wait in a certain place for several hours to capture the Aurora Borealis. The photographer was lucky in this instance as she waited near Diamond Beach where the reflection of the aurora on the ice was beautiful.”

 

“The Prison of Technology” © Rafael Schmall (Hungary), people and space winner. “The star in the centre of the image is the Albireo double star, surrounded by the trails of moving satellites. How many more might there be by the time we reach next year’s competition? There could be thousands of moving dots in the sky. In order to create astrophotos, photographers have to carefully plan where to place the telescope, and this will be more difficult in the future with more satellites in the way.”

 

“Light Bridge in the Sky” © Xiuquan Zhang (China), aged 12, young competition highly commended. “The photographer visited Iceland with his mother in 2019. The sky there is wonderful every night. The photographer had never seen such a scene before! The aurora is magical, as you can see in this photo.”

 

“Cosmic Inferno” © Peter Ward (Australia), stars and nebulae winner. “NGC 3576 is a well-known nebula in southern skies but is shown here without any stars. The software reveals just the nebula, which has been mapped into a false color palette. The scene takes on the look of a celestial fire-maelstrom. The image is intended to reflect media images taken in Australia during 2019 and 2020, where massive bushfires caused the destruction of native forests and have claimed over 12 million acres of land. It shows nature can act on vast scales and serves as a stark warning that our planet needs nurturing.”

 

“Desert Magic” © Stefan Leibermann (Germany), skyscapes runner up. “The photographer took this image during a trip through Jordan. He stayed for three days in the desert at Wadi Rum. During the night, the photographer tried to capture the amazing starry sky over the desert. He used a star tracker device to capture the sky. The photographer found this red dune as a foreground and captured the imposing Milky Way centre in the sky.”

 

“Observe the Heart of the Galaxy” © Tian Li (China), people and space runner up. “This image depicts the photographer climbing the radio telescope and Mingantu solar radio telescope array. First, the photographer tested and moved his camera so that the M8 and M20 nebulae would appear right next to the telescope. After taking the foreground image, he moved his camera a little bit but still pointing at the same location in the sky, and captured the background with an equatorial mount.”

 

“Tycho Crater Region with Colours” © Alain Paillou (France), our moon winner. “The Tycho crater is one of the most famous craters on the Moon. This huge impact has left very impressive scars on the Moon’s surface. With the colours of the soils, Tycho is even more impressive. This picture combines one session with a black-and-white camera, to capture the details and sharpness, and one session with a colour camera, to capture the colours of the soils. These colours come mainly from metallic oxides in small balls of glass and can give useful information about the Moon’s geology and history. The blue shows a high titanium oxide concentration and the red shows high iron oxide concentration. This picture reveals the incredible beauty and complexity of our natural satellite.”

 

“The Green Lady” © Nicholas Roemmelt (Germany), aurorae winner. “The photographer had heard a lot of stories about the ‘lady in green’. Although he has had the chance to photograph the Northern Lights many times, he had never seen the ‘green lady’ before. On a journey to Norway, she unexpectedly appeared with her magical green clothes making the whole sky burn with green, blue, and pink colours.”

 

“The Dolphin Jumping out of an Ocean of Gas” © Connor Matherne (USA), stars and nebulae runner up. “This target is officially known as Sh2-308, but the photographer has always enjoyed calling it the Dolphin Nebula. It is a bubble of gas being shed by the bright blue star in the centre of the image as it enters its pre-supernova phase. The red star to the right could possibly be influencing the shape too and might be responsible for the bill of the dolphin. While it won’t explode in our lifetimes, seeing the warning signs are quite neat. It never hurts to say that the warning signs are the most beautiful part of this particular target!”

 

 



History Illustration Science

Vintage Natural Science and Astronomy Illustrations Adorn Face Masks by Maria Popova

June 24, 2020

Grace Ebert

All images courtesy of Society6

Maria Popova, of Brain Pickings, has released a series of face masks that bring a dose of history to the modern-day essential. Each fabric covering is adorned with a vintage natural history or astronomy illustration, including Ellen Harding Baker’s solar system quilt, Ernst Haeckel’s renderings of jellyfish, and irises and other medicinal plants originally painted by Elizabeth Blackwell in the 18th century. “Because of the mask’s particular folding pattern, some of the artwork came alive in a wholly new and unexpected way,” Popova writes in a post.

My personal favorite — the original design I made for myself and my most beloved human — is the total solar eclipse mask, evocative of the opening line of astronomer and poet Rebecca Elson’s magnificent “Antidotes to Fear of Death”: “Sometimes as an antidote, To fear of death, I eat the stars.”

Explore some of the collection on Brain Pickings. You also might enjoy these artist-designed masks.

 

 

 



Illustration

Celestial Illustrations by Diana Sudyka Fill a New Book Celebrating 19th Century Astronomer Maria Mitchell

October 11, 2019

Laura Staugaitis

A new book written by Hayley Barrett and illustrated by Diana Sudyka (previously) celebrates the life of pioneering 19th century astronomer Maria Mitchell. Mitchell was America’s first professional female astronomer and taught at Vassar College (which was a women’s college at the time). She also used her platform as an internationally renowned scientist to advance women’s rights and abolition. What Miss Mitchell Saw tells the story of Mitchell’s life, geared toward young readers with lush, star-filled illustrations that intermingle celestial shapes and patterns throughout the story’s earthbound elements.

“I immediately was struck by the beauty of Barrett’s writing, and her deep respect for Maria Mitchell was very apparent,” illustrator Diana Sudyka tells Colossal. “It was also important to me is as a manuscript about the power of observation, and a woman in science at a time when there were very few, and even less being recognized for their contributions.” The artist shares that she didn’t know much about Mitchell at the start of the project, but learned through research how Nantucket whaling culture and the Quaker faith shaped Mitchell’s character and point of view.

Sudyka used india ink, gouache, watercolor, and handmade indigo to build the imagery for What Miss Mitchell Saw. The artist works by hand and in full color from the get-go, and uses some digital techniques at the end of the editing process, once the images are ready to be integrated into the book. To complement the artist’s established aesthetic, which naturally meshed with the storyline, Sudyka tells Colossal that she drew inspiration from scrimshaw (decorative and narrative carvings into whale bones by whalers), as well as Rockwell Kent’s illustrations for an edition of Moby Dick. “The biggest challenge for working on this book was simply finding good reference material to make sure I got the look and feel of Nantucket and that time period right,” Sudyka explains.

In addition to her work as a children’s book illustrator, Sudyka has volunteered at the Field Museum of Natural History’s bird lab for over a decade, and is drawn to science and natural history. You can see more of the artist’s work on Instagram and find prints in her online store. What Miss Mitchell Saw was published last month by Simon and Shuster, and is available on Amazon.

Scrimshaw (resin replica), photo: Diana Sudyka

Scrimshaw (resin replica), photo: Diana Sudyka

Concept sketches by Diana Sudyka, courtesy of the artist