Amateur astronomers and the art of astrophotography | Iowa Outdoors

But first, we’ll head to one of the darkest
regions of our state at Whiterock Conservancy near Coon Rapids. Amateur astronomers from
across Iowa and neighboring states gather each year for the Iowa Star Party. It’s a
weekend full of stargazing, astrophotography and conversation at the legendary Garst Farm.
And for one night a chance to share an interstellar hobby with curious guests. It’s a hot, late summer afternoon and amateur
astronomers are setting up their telescopes in an empty pasture known as the Star Field
at Whiterock Conservancy. The skies are clear and there’s a long night of good stargazing
ahead. Jim Bosner: Tonight we’ll be able to probably
look at Saturn for a little while before it gets behind the trees. And you just love that
moment of oh wow, you can see the rings. You hear that over and over. You never get tired
of hearing that. The first time you see Saturn is a memorable experience with everybody. For many of the participants, observing the
universe is a hobby and a passion. It’s a treasure hunt in the sky. Bosner: Lots of different things you can do.
Some just like to look, some like to take notes, some like to take pictures. It’s a
wide, wide gamut. The telescopes range from small to large,
simple to complex, homemade and reasonably priced to very expensive. Some are ideal for
looking at stars and planets. Others are designed for viewing galaxies and nebula. For beginners,
you can even get started with a pair of binoculars. The light bounces off the big mirror and it
comes up to the secondary mirror. One night each year the public is invited
to the Iowa Star Party. People young and old get a basic lesson in astronomy 101 and learn
how to use a star chart. Then, once it gets dark, they have the chance to walk around
the star field, look through the many different telescopes and explore the wonders of the
skies in new ways. The amateur astronomers are on hand to help guide the viewing and
answer any questions. We’re actually looking at light that left
there about 40 minutes ago. It’s over a billion miles away right now. And, you know when it gets darker there are
some beautiful, deep sky, some clusters and galaxies we would love to show you. Whiterock Conservancy is an ideal location
because there is very little light pollution from nearby towns or cities. A darker sky
means better viewing. Astronomers can see things here that they could never see from
their own back yard in a city. Dave Venne: So many people now live in places
where you can’t even see the sky. And it’s not a big tragedy compared to other things
that are happening in the world but it is a loss of beauty and that’s a shame. You see it? Isn’t that something? Now, look
to the left of the ring about four or five diameters from the ring, you’ll see a faint
speck of light. That is its largest moon, Titan, which is bigger than our moon actually. There could be up to a million stars in that
ball. They’re all swarming around each other like a hive of bees just spinning around. Craig Jones: You see the different galaxies
way off in the distance and you just can’t imagine, you know, you don’t know if there’s
life out there or what’s going on out there. But it’s kind of neat to see the distant galaxies. That little telescope you’re going to be able
to look through to find Polaris. That’s cool. Venne: It’s the beauty of the sky. I’ve always
loved it since I was a kid. I’ve gone through the visual observing, I’ve had a number of
telescopes. I just love to look at the sky and the things in the sky. And now I have
moved on to a new phase of it, imaging. It’s expensive, it’s frustrating but when it works
it’s so much fun, I love it. Astrophotography, the art of photographing
the skies, is growing in popularity. Amateur astronomers spend hours and hours capturing
still images that wow with beauty, grandeur and artistry. Lynn Reihman: I actually got into astronomy
and astronomy got me into photography. I saw all the great images and said, wow, I want
to do that. So I do more of the wide field stuff where I’ll actually have my camera with
the regular lens just piggybacking on the telescope. A lot of the other guys do what
is called prime focus where they’ll have the camera hooked onto where the eye piece normally
goes and you’re using the telescope itself as the lens. Bosner: There’s a lot of different ways to
do it but what I usually do is I use a digital DSLR Canon 450D. I’ve advanced a little, that’s
why there’s two scopes here. Normally I have my guide scope on this side and this one tracks
the stars, it’s got a camera that goes to the computer and there’s software that can
lock onto a star and make sure if that star starts to drift in any direction it will send
commands to the mount and tell the mount to compensate for that and keep the stars centered.
Meanwhile the digital camera is here taking the pictures. Usually I take five or ten minute
sub-images and then at the end of a couple hours of that I’ll take all those images and
then in software I can add them together. With a good eye and the right technique, the
stunning work of amateur astrophotographers rivals what some professionals produce, from
the sun to other stars and star clusters, plants like Saturn and Jupiter and even galaxies. (music) The experience is eye-opening and awe-inspiring.
A new group of budding amateur astronomers is hooked by the curiosity of what is out
thee in the universe. Jones: Everybody has a little bit different
story to tell about what their interest is and it’s kind of neat seeing that. I like how it looks so different on Earth
and it looks really different when you’re looking through a telescope in space. Something that I think everybody should experience
just once because it is huge out there and we have to look beyond just us. There are several amateur astronomy clubs
and associations all across Iowa. Some have their own observatories and many of them host
regular public viewing opportunities. If you’re interested in stargazing it’s a good way to
get involved and continue learning. Bosner: The best thing you can have is a beginning
astronomer as a friend.

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