Stargazing and Astrophotography

The July meeting of the Saint Louis Astronomical Society will feature a program about the art of observing and the art of taking pictures of objects in the night sky, presented by amateur astronomers and SLAS members James Melka and James Roe. The meeting will begin at 7:30 pm Friday, July 15, in the Earth and Planetary Sciences Building, Room 203, on the Washington University campus. The E.P. Building is located at the intersection of Hoyt Drive and Throop Drive, in the northeast corner of the University campus. Due to Metrolink construction, the Building is accessible from Forsyth Boulevard via Hoyt Drive. Stargazing is a popular activity, whether the observer uses binoculars, a telescope, or just the unaided eye. It is often enjoyed in a group setting. Beginners benefit greatly from an experienced skywatcher who can introduce the objects in the night sky. Experienced observers benefit from sharing their views of planets, stars, and galaxies. But opportunities for group events are limited. Jim Roe is the Executive Director of the Alliance For Astronomy, Inc., a non-profit organization seeking to develop an astronomy center in St. Charles County. Such a center will provide opportunities for both casual and frequent observers to explore the night skies.
Astrophotography - the art of taking pictures of objects in the night sky - is difficult, even with the use of specialized equipment. The telescopes that make invisible objects appear, and magnify them to show detail, also magnify the effects of the Earth’s spin. So the telescopes must be able to “track” a celestial object, precisely, often for many minutes at a time. In addition, even the clear night air is unsteady, blurring the view at high magnification for exposures even a few seconds long. Digital photography can greatly reduce some of these problems and dramatically increase the detail seen in astrophotographs. Jim Melka is an experienced astrophotographer who is particularly interested in the planet Mars. Jim will describe the technique he uses to photograph Mars, and display a number of his best views of the Red Planet. Then he will explain how he used a Mars Orbiter Camera Public Target Request Site scene to confirm his expectation of a large expanse of dark sand dunes in one particular location. NASA has provided a way for private individuals to request that the Mars Observer now orbiting Mars focus its high resolution camera on certain land features. Jim Melka’s request was one of the locations selected by NASA from the many requests placed.