A few months ago I came across a photograph of the Andromeda galaxy (M31) that completely took my breath away. It was simply beautiful. When I discovered it was taken by a 16 year old, I could not believe it and I was simultaneously green with envy and extremely awestruck. Jacob Bers was the photographer and I remember contacting him not long after he published his M31 photograph asking for his permission to use the image in one of my older blog posts. Later, I contacted Jacob again and asked him if I could print and frame his photograph for my dining room. He gave permission and I wanted to share with you this beautiful image and its place in my home. The photograph below shows M31 in all its glory. A trillion (1,000,000,000,000) stars staring out at you from 2.5 million light years away. It truly is spectacular and some of my earthly troubles or problems seems to fade away whenever I look at it. Indeed, it reminds me to not take life, or myself, too seriously.
I have since been in contact with Jacob again and he agreed to answer a few questions I had for him, so here is a brief interview with a brilliant and young astrophotographer.
JL: How old are you and how old were you when you started AP?
JB: I am currently 16 years old. I started astrophotography the beginning of my freshmen year of high school, when I was 14.
JL: What is your favourite photograph that you have captured?
JB: My favourite photograph that I have captured is tie between my recent M31, and my M42 I took at Yosemite last year. My M42 was the first serious attempt at deep-sky astrophtography I made, and thinking back on it, I am very surprised it worked. I took it on Christmas Eve at a view point in Yosemite. I had never tested the lens I was using, nor had I really tested the mount. I had no guiding, and no telescope. All I was using was a lens and a camera on my new equatorial mount. I was only able to get 2 min exposures (I can now get up to 20 min exposures) and I had no idea what to expect from them. I got home from Yosemite thinking that the trip had been a mild success, in that all the gear had worked, and that I had gotten to see some beautiful scenery. It turned out that the combination of the dark skies of Yosemite, and the huge number of sub exposures that I had taken resulted in one of the deepest pictures of M42 anyone had ever seen on /r/astrophotography. The success of My M42 picture was what really jump started me into seriously starting to learn more advance imaging techniques, and as a result, probably is the reason my M31 picture was such a success.
Here is the picture of M42:
JL: What is your favourite Hubble telescope image and why?
JB: My favorite Hubble picture is actually a series of pictures the Hubble took of Super Nova 1987a. Over the course of 15 years, the Hubble took a time-lapse of the dying star. What it saw was simply incredible. As the Hubble watched, a shock wave from the centre of the explosion spread out and collided with a heavy ring of material ejected by the dying star. As the two clouds collided, the friction heated the ring up and caused it to glow. Here’s what it saw:
JL: What was your first telescope and what year did you get it?
JB: My first telescope was an iOptron 80mm refractor on a smart cube mount. I got it when I was about 8 as a holiday present. While the scope was pretty poor optically, I took some of my first pictures of the moon with it.
JL: What is your earliest astronomy memory or the first thing you remember looking at through a telescope?
JB: I remember when I was about 5 I looked through a small scope at the moon. I thought it was cool, but Thomas the Tank Engine was on, and as a 5 year old, nothing beats Thomas. Now that I’m an astrophotographer, however, I’ve learned to loathe the moon’s blinding presence in our sky.
JL: What is your next AP challenge or objective?
JB: My next AP challenge is going to likely be a deep picture of the Horsehead nebula. The Horsehead nebula is one of the more challenging objects in the sky for DSLR astrophotographers due to the fact that most of its light comes in the form of Hydrogen Alpha light. Hydrogen alpha light is caused by electrons in hydrogen atoms doping down energy levels (ionizing). Hydrogen alpha is filtered by DSLR sensors, making it very difficult to image objects with this type of light.
I hope to successfully image the Horsehead nebula with comparable quality to purpose made astronomical CCD cameras, in order to prove that with a little extra work, DSLRs can perform just as well as CCDs.
JL: Getting APOD is a pretty amazing achievement. How did you find out about it and what was your reaction?
JB: Thanks. Robert Nemiroff (the editor of APOD) emailed me through my blog to let me know that my M31 picture would be July 30th’s APOD. The email however just simply said “FYI: www.apod.nasa.gov/” the url directed me to a private link displaying the APODs for the next 5 days. At first I didn’t believe it, and I had no idea who Robert Nemiroff was. After a bit of googling I figured out that he was the editor of APOD and that yes in fact, my picture actually had been chosen as July 30ths APOD. I was extremely exited and proceeded to tell all my friends and family to check APOD on the 30th. It has been a few weeks, and I still can barely believe that I actually got an APOD. It was a huge honor and I can’t thank everyone on /r/astrophotography enough for getting me to the point I am at now.
JL: What is your favourite AP of all time?
JB: Oh, man that’s a hard one!
1) Rogelio Bernal Andreo’s M31/M33
Rogelio Bernal Andreo is one of my favourite astrophotographers. Not only are his data incredible, but his framing and use of colour is amazing as well. From looking at his images, I’ve learned that the framing of objects is just as important as good colour balance or getting good data. The way he off sets the subject from the centre pulls the viewer’s attention away from the main object, and allows them to focus on the incredible background of dust and stars.
RBA has taught me that astrophotography is not just about acquiring data and getting longer exposures, but it’s also about how you present the subject.
JL: Do you fellow school mates know about your hobby? What do they think and how do they react to your pictures?
JB: My friends know that I do astrophotography, but only a few actually care, or even fully understand what that means. Some of my closer friends look forwards to seeing my next pictures, and if asked, will hang out with me while I image. In general, however, it’s too obscure of a hobby for people to care much.
JL: What are some of your favourite astronomy books and which would you recommend to beginners?
JB: There are two books that I would recommend to anyone getting started in astronomy or astrophtography. The first one is Turn Left at Orion by Guy Consolmagno and Dan M. Davis. Turn Left at Orion is an excellent book for anyone learning the sky and wanting to know just what exactly is up there to see. The second book is geared a little more towards astrophotographers. The 100 Best Astrophotography Targets: A Monthly Guide for CCD Imaging with Amerture Telescopes is an amazing resource for people looking for their next target to image. It is a month by month catalogue of deep sky objects complete with descriptions and advice on framing and processing.
Thanks for answering these questions, Jacob and keep up the great work!
If you would like permission to print Jacob’s work, or get in contact with him, check out his excellent website at www.bersonicastronomy.com .
Cheers and clear skies to all.
For those of you that are interested, here is a picture of Jacob’s AP set-up:
He has also put together an excellent and detailed description of his rig here: http://imgur.com/a/cGwEG