Spending hours gazing at the starry sky, Ken Florentine has captured more than 2,000 cosmic images through the lens of his telescope in his Evans backyard.
One of those images, a shot of an emission nebula taken Oct. 28, recently was featured as Picture of the Day on Astronomy magazine's Web site.
"That was real nice," he said. "It just shows that hard work pays off. You just keep working at it, and you get a little bit better every time."
Florentine received his first telescope when he was 14 years old, and in 2001, he started investing money into the hobby. Florentine, who subscribes to both Astronomy and Sky & Telescope magazines, now has two telescopes, a 9.25-inch Celestron and a 3.2-inch Takahashi with which he shot the nebula emission.
When describing the image he took of the North American Nebula, also classified as NGC 7000, Florentine said the reddish glow that radiates from the exposure is caused by hydrogen gases interacting with the hot stars in the area. The nebula is in the constellation Cygnus, which is about 1,600 light-years from Earth.
"If you look at it from a larger perspective, it looks kind of like North America," he said. "It's pretty cool."
Florentine said he's interested in "just looking back into time and ... the chance that you are going to see something that nobody has ever seen before."
After taking what he deemed as his first "decent" image of Mars in 2003, Florentine has focused his energy on objects deeper in space and spends as much as six hours outdoors at a time, when conditions permit, exploring the skies with his telescope.
"The thing about photography vs. just observing is that you have a permanent record of what you observe and the exact time and date," he said. "You can actually discover things. Amateurs discover new objects all the time in the sky."
When choosing selections for Picture of the Day, photo editors at Astronomy magazine look for a variety of aspects, including the image's overall quality, composition and coloring, said Michael Bakich, senior and photo editor at the magazine.
"It had all the criteria that we're looking for, and (we) thought we'd feature it as Photo of the Day," he said. "We have hundreds of images that we could feature, and that was a really good one."
The magazine receives between 200 and 300 images each month for that particular section, Bakich said.
To shoot an object like a nebula, Bakich said the astro-imager needs a wide field of view to capture the object, requiring a specific type of setup.
The image can be viewed by visiting the Picture of the Day archives in the multimedia section of Astronomy magazine's Web site at www.astronomy.com. It was taken from Florentine's $3,000 ST-2000XCM camera from Santa Barbara Instrument Group. The camera clips onto the back of the telescope.
After an image is taken, it still needs to be processed -- a step that can take a few hours and requires software, such as Adobe Photoshop, Florentine said.
In the future, he said, he would like to construct an aluminum semi-permanent observatory with a removable roof to house his telescopes. For now, Florentine must remove his camera and optics from the tripod and mount nearly every time he's finished observing because of weather conditions. The setup time can take three hours.
For Florentine, perseverance is the key to succeeding at astronomical imaging.
"There's really no one thing that will ensure that everything will work out," he said. "You've got to have patience."
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