The night sky in 37 440 exposures

2011-05-12 22:42
Portion of the Photopic Sky Survey image.

Portion of the Photopic Sky Survey image. (Nick Risinger)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

kalahari.com

Seattle - Nick Risinger has always gazed up at the sky. But last year the amateur astronomer and photographer quit his day job as a Seattle marketing director and lugged six synchronized cameras about 100 000km to capture an image of the entire night sky.

Risinger, 28, set up his rack of cameras in high-elevation locales in the Western US and South Africa, timing photo shoots around new moons when nights were long and dark.

He programmed his six cameras to track the stars as they moved across the sky and simultaneously snapped thousands of photos.

He then stitched 37 440 exposures together into a spectacular, panoramic survey sky that he posted online two weeks ago. The photo reveals a 360-degree view of the Milky Way, planets and stars in their true natural colours.

Viewers can zoom in on portions of the 5 000-megapixel image to find Orion or the Large Magellanic Cloud.

"I wanted to share what I thought was possible," said Risinger, a first-time astrophotographer. "We don't see it like this. This is much brighter. On a good night in Seattle, you'll see 20 or 30 stars. This, in its full size, you'll see 20 to 30 million. Everything is amplified."

Other sky surveys have preceded this one, including the Digitized Sky Survey and Google Sky. Many serve scientific purposes and were shot in red and blue to measure the temperature of stars, Risinger said. He shot in a third colour, green, to give the photo added depth and richness, he said.

"What a labor of love it is!" said Andrew Fraknoi, senior educator at the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. "Professional astronomers are now doing much deeper surveys of small regions of the sky, using big telescopes. But every once in a while it's nice to step back and have such a beautiful photographic record of the whole sky."

Not scientifically useful

"This is not a scientifically useful image. This is for educational and artistic appreciation," Risinger said, adding that he didn't want to make money from it. "It is for educational purposes. I want to develop some tools for the classroom."

To capture the entire night sky in a year, Risinger plotted out an exact schedule of images he needed from both the northern and southern hemisphere. He divided the sky into 624 uniform sections and entered those co-ordinates into the computer.

"The sheer amount of work was mind-boggling," he said at his apartment in Seattle. "It's not a wing-it kind of project. You have to plan how you're going to get the entire sky.

"And you do that by dividing it up into pieces and knowing what time you need to collect those pieces because as the Earth goes around the Sun, things come in and out of view."

In March of last year, Risinger and his older brother, Erik, travelled to the desert near Tonapah, Nevada, and took the first photos of what eventually would become his Photopic Sky Survey.

When he realised the work was too monumental, Risinger quit his day job as a marketing director of a counter top company to devote himself full-time to the project. He also persuaded his retired father, Tom, who lives in Gig Harbour, Washington, to join him.

In the US, he and his dad would often drive all day and set up and take photographs all night. They chased ideal windows of opportunity to catch the night sky at its clearest.

Their travels took them to dark places where light pollution was low and higher altitudes where there was less water vapour - near the Chiricahua Mountains in Arizona, near Fort Davis, Texas, and Lassen National Forest in California. 

South Africa

He found himself staking out stars in freezing temperatures in Telluride, Colorado, and amid stars in South Africa where none of the constellations were recognisable to his northern hemisphere-trained eyes.

Each night, Risinger set the six cameras - high-end monochrome astrophotography imagers equipped with different filters - to point in the exact same spot and continuously feed his laptop with images.

He monitored the photographs in real-time and passed the dark hours eating sunflower seeds. Meanwhile, his dad slept.

Back in Seattle, Risinger began piecing the panoramic image together in January. He used a computer software programme to scan each frame, recognise the pattern with a database of stars and then match them with the other colours and frames. That got projected onto a sphere.

"Making an atlas of the night sky is something that mostly professional astronomers would have done in the past," said Fraknoi, who is also chair of the astronomy department at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, California.

"With new computer tools at our disposal, it's remarkable what amateur astronomers can discover."

Risinger finished the project a couple weeks ago, and has been getting thousands of hits on his website.

"It was always hard to describe what I was doing that would make sense to people that aren't familiar with astronomy. But once they see it, they get it."


- AP
Read more on:    us  |  space
NEXT ON NEWS24X
SHARE:

Read News24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
13 comments
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining
 

Inside News24

 
/Music
Traffic & Train Alerts
Traffic
Cape Town 12:55 PM
Road name: Nelson Mandela Boulevard Inbound

FLOODING near the Strand Street exit - approach with caution

Goodwood 12:14 PM
Road name: N7 Vanguard Drive Southbound

SLOW TRAFFIC towards Voortrekker Road

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Magical Massinga

Spend 5 nights at the gorgeous Massinga Beach Lodge in Mozambique and only pay for 4 from R13 220 per person sharing. Includes return flights, accommodation, transfers and romantic turndown. Book now!

Kalahari.com - shop online today

Save up to 30% off top fragrances

Get mind blowing savings on selected fragrances. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Up to 40% off fashion accessories

Save up to 40% on selected handbags, purses, watches, jewellery and more. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Save up to R2000 on top electronics

Get every day mind bowing savings on top electronics. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Save up to 50% on Women’s month treats!

Celebrate the awesome women in your life with awesome treats like beauty products, fashion accessories, bestselling books, electronics and more. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Up to 60% off - clearance sale!

Save up to 60% on appliances, books, electronics, toys, movies and more. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

Horoscopes
Aquarius
Aquarius

Today you may want to bond with your children and need to connect to your imaginative and playful side. It may be that you are...read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.








Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.