About the Blog

This blog contains recent projects, activities, and musings about astrophotography and space, to view my main webpage with prints for sale, final images, and Annie's Astro Actions, please visit: www.eprisephoto.com


Saturday, June 18, 2011

Somewhere between a dream and reality .... Atlantis

January 12, 1997: 15 year old me is sitting in the wee hours of the morning with my family on the grass in Florida staring at a platform lit up by spot lights. The excitement builds with each reducing number in a countdown and I watch as 7 astronauts live out my dream: to go up into space. 3, 2, 1, LIFTOFF of the Shuttle Atlantis. STS-81 turns the dark night into an eery green daylight. Getting to actually watch the shuttle launch is an experience I have never forgotten and still nearly brings me to tears just thinking about it. I dug out our vehicle placard and some photos we took of the launch (and me on the tour - I am the goofy one in the hat in the center). Glad I saved the placard from way back then!

14 years later, technology has advanced, time has moved on. I pursued my dream of being an astronaut for a while - I attended and graduated from the US Air Force Academy in those pursuits. Dreams rarely play out the way you hope and the years have certainly dampened my pursuit of that particular dream although I still desperately would love to go into space I now have a family and am traveling and living around the world with the military. I got out of the Air Force and am now an amateur astronomer/astrophotographer and mother. The former keeping my head in the stars and the latter keeping me firmly planted on Earth. NASA has changed and the shuttle is nearing the end of its magnificent life. One last Shuttle launch. Atlantis flies once more. STS-135 is set to take off on July 8, 2011 and I cannot express how much I wanted to see the Shuttle launch one more time. The past 14 years have kept me busy and unable to return to the Florida coast for this despite many attempts to do so.

NASA has embraced the social media craze that has engulfed our society. They now hold Tweetups where they invite a fortunate few followers from Twitter to attend once-in-a-lifetime events held at various NASA facilities throughout the country. VIP tours, talks from engineers, scientists, astronauts, behind the scenes first-hand looks at the inner workings of NASA. In short, the best 2 days ever for a Space geek like me! I heard about these shortly after I joined Twitter and began applying for the launch ones as well as the ones held at Johnson Space Center. I was living in Texas at the time and had planned to go see Mission Control before we moved regardless but fate intervened and accepted me to the STS-132 JSC Tweetup. I have blogged about that experience  and still get giddy when I remember it or look at my pictures. Sitting in the chair of the Flight Director for the Apollo missions, getting to see astronauts train in the NBL ... SQUEEE!!! :) I was never one of the fortunate ones, however, picked to see a launch from the Press Box and get the inside tour of Kennedy. As the Shuttle's lifespan comes to a close it has gained popularity and each Tweetup got more and more applicants. We were down to the final launch. I had moved to England again with the Air Force so being able to drive over to see it regardless became difficult. I applied for the Tweetup regardless as well as for tickets for the launch. Why not, right? The odds were not in my favor but I had to do it anyways. Despite telling myself that I should not get my hopes up, I did. So when I got the rejection letter for tickets I was a bit bummed. Then the day for Tweetup selections came and went and not only did I not get an acceptance email, I got NO email whatsoever. They send out at least rejection letters regardless so I was beginning to think my application didn't go through - I was a bit upset but went ahead and sent them a message inquiring, just in case.

A response via Twitter raised my hopes again: "You're on the waiting list for #NASATweetup. We'll look into where the email might have gone."  Not accepted, but not rejected!!! 5500 people applied. Only 150 got the invite with another 150 being Wait-listed. Odds were still not great, but I had made the first cut!!! A week came and went with me following all the excitement of those selected and trying to join in - this was an exciting event whether I got to be there or not! As the #s of original invitees creeped up I realized that it was not looking good. I resigned to the fact that I wouldnt be going to the Tweetup but was going to still be excited about the launch, follow those who were going, and enjoy the last launch of the Space Shuttle.

I go out to an afternoon date with my husband while my daughter is in nursery school since he has a random Friday off. Enjoyable afternoon - nice lunch and good movie. All thoughts of NASATweetup are temporarily gone .... until I get home and check my email. This is staring at me from my inbox:

Pretty sure I did some weird convulsive jump and squeal as my husband asked what had happened. I couldn't believe it - I get to go to the last Shuttle Launch!!!!

photo credit: Nathan Bergey
I am working out all the details to attend now, but am still a bit in shock. Look for more from my blog around the 7-8th of July as I make my way to the Space Coast and watch Atlantis leave Earth for the last time. For two days in early July I get to get as close as I can to my dream - the Countdown Clock - and watch the last US Space Shuttle lift off away from its home planet. GO STS-135!!!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Zoomable version of my mosaic project

In case, like me, you are getting tired of seeing the overall image shrink in scale as I keep adding panels to this project, I have created a zoomable version that I will keep updated so you can zoom all the way to 1:1 if you want to see all the details in the North American and Pelican Nebulas that I am imaging. It is located here: http://mosaicproject.eprisephoto.com/

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Summer project

Have you ever wanted to image for 8.5 days? I don't mean take a vacation and take a photo sometime throughout each day - I mean 8.5 days, 200+ hours, of cumulative exposure time for one photo. This is what I am currently in the midst of. I don't even want to add in set up, acquisition, focusing, tear down into the mix else I might faint from the amount of time I am working on this one shot.

The goal: a high resolution narrowband mosaic of the Pelican and North American Nebulas.

I am using my Atik 314L+ ccd camera and my Orion EON80ED scope to (hopefully) make a very high resolution large mosaic of the region. By my calculations and progress so far each filter will have 20 panels. I am currently half-way through the Ha, which I am shooting 10x1200s subs, binned 1x1 for each of those panels.

My thinking? Well, summers here in England have very short nights and I realized that combined with the infamous cloudy and rainy weather here I would be lucky to finish more than just a couple objects during the summer months. I was beginning the season with just a Ha shot of the main portion of the Pelican when I had this brilliant plan. Why not avoid frustration over having to drag out each image and plan that into the summer? Do a mosaic of the region, which with my small chip was the only way to image it anyways, and therefore when I do have clear nights, even though incredibly short on darkness, I already have all the planning done and just have to center on the next panel and off I go. Halfway through the first filter's panels I am wondering if I was completely insane when I set my mind out to do this! The 10 panels I currently have are roughly 77 inches square in size and so large I have to cut it down to 1/4 size just to load to Flickr and not hit their size maximums!!! No, I will not be printing a 10 foot poster of the final project, but the resolution for even a (what a normal person would consider) large print should be fantastic.

I still have the rest of the summer and beginning of fall until my targets rotate away for a few months so I am hoping that the remaining 167 hours are as promising as the first 33 were!

(Note: I have cropped the excess off of the right and bottom to where I plan the edges to roughly be for the final mosaic, I am still working left and up)

Monitor Calibration

Monitor Calibration
The grayscale above presents 24 shades of gray from pure white to solid black. If you cannot see all 24, your monitor needs calibration to view the astrophotos correctly: I recommend the site linked in the image