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 SEEING BEYOND THE STARS: FEATURE EXHIBITION FOR MAY

AT FORT MADISON AREA ARTS ASSOCIATION



Science merges with art this month with the astro-imaging of local astronomers Rudie Allison and Bill Stout. Take a journey into deep space and look at the wonders of the night sky. Meet the documenting duo at a reception on May 13thfrom 5:00-7:00pm at the gallery on 825 Avenue G. Two Rivers Insurance is the sponsor for the exhibition.

Ready for some stunning visualizations? See images of galaxies 2.5 million light years away, giant clouds of gas giving birth to new stars, or remnants of an exploding star recorded in China in 1042 that was so bright-- it was visable during the day. Rudie Allison relays, “Astrophotography or astro-imaging is a very specialized process of photographing the distant objects in the night sky, It is quite distinct from terrestrial photography because of the necessity to track the objects as they move across the sky with the need to take very long exposures in order to gather the dim light being emitted from the objects that are otherwise invisible to the eye, even when looking through a telescope. Not to mention the challenge of locating the object to begin with and then properly framing it in the camera field of view. Multiple exposures of the object can then be added together to intensify the light coming from the object.  In order to do this the tracking has to be as precise as 1 part per million! Sky clarity and calmness as well as complete darkness (no moonlight) are required to capture these images and after multiple images are taken and combined it is then necessary to use several image processing software programs to bring out the detail and further enhance the results. Most photographs require an average of 8 to 10 hours of time at the scope and the computer to complete. The minimum equipment required to do this includes a modern GoTo tracking type telescope, a CCD digital type electronic camera, a very solid mount for stability of the telescope, and an effective way of precise focusing and maintaining focus of the telescope/camera combo as well as a pretty powerful computer.”

Astro-imaging takes precision, patience, and price points. Some lens units on the equipment run the equivalent rate of a new car. Rudie and Bill have a powerpoint presentation that will be delivered in third week of May (date soon to be determined) for those budding scientists wanting some technical delivery on the captured images. Each label for each image registers name of the galaxy or nebula, distance away, telescope and camera utilized, exposure times, total time on the image, and photographer. Rudie and Bill pay attention to the details. It helps to understand each astrophotographer's passion for astronomy.

Rudie Allison: My interest in astronomy goes back to late 1957. I have many fond memories of  my dad and I going outside to watch the night sky to catch a glimpse of the Russian Sputnik  as it passed over. This was the first man-made satellite launched into orbit around the earth and it lit a fire in me that still burns today! I grew up during the era of the space race and my earliest ambition was to be an astronaut. I got my first telescope in 1960 and although it only made it possible for a very shaky close-up view of the moon it certainly encouraged me to dream of better and larger telescopes and cameras to enable me to see night sky objects that were at unimaginable distances from the earth.  Even before the internet there was no shortage of books and magazines showing beautiful and colorful deep sky objects and they only made me long for the experience of seeing these things first hand through my own telescope.  I got my first modern telescope on a tracking mount in the mid 1980's for visual viewing and then soon after that I started attempting to take photographs through it with an SLR camera. Although I can still remember the thrill of actually getting some results from those early attempts, they were in many ways a disappointment because they did not look anything like the text book photographs that I had been admiring for years. However,  I was hooked!! As in any hobby or other endeavor I began to improve my skills and equipment with time and it just happened that my efforts coincided with a revolution in what was then called astrophotography and is now more often referred to as astro-imaging.  With the revolutionary development of the CCD camera connected  to a computer and mounted on a quality telescope with excellent tracking capabilities it is now possible with backyard equipment to produce astro images that are actually better than photos taken 40 years ago by professional astronomers through the huge 200 inch Hale telescope at Mt. Palomar! Since retiring 9 years ago it has been my quest to pursue this hobby to the fullest extent possible with the limited number of clear nights that we have in this area. This exhibit shows the results of my efforts after nearly 60 years of interest in astronomy and exploring the night sky.

Bill Stout: I always liked trying to locate different constellations while on family camping trips and the like. I told my sister once I always wanted to get a telescope but was afraid I would lose interest in it with in a couple months. The next year everyone went in together and bought me a telescope for my birthday. It was a small department store 4” scope with no drive mechanism but I was able to see planets, galaxies and some bright nebula. I decided to buy an 8 inch scope with right ascension drive motor. One weekend a few months later I went to a star party at Mount Pinos, California. I happen to setup next to a guy with a GOTO scope. I was so impressed with it I bought one 2 months later. It had a key pad that all you had to do was punch in what you wanted to see and it would go right to it. No more wasting time trying to locate some in the sky. The guy I met became a good friend and we began astrophotography together. Every new moon He and I and our wives would pack up for the weekend and go to the Sierra National Forest in California, about a 4 ½ hour drive from our home in Simi Valley. The skies were dark and steady at 8400 feet elevation. Progress was slow and difficult then with the use of film. Most of the images were either out of focus or star trailing from poor guiding. The worst of it was not knowing the results until the film was developed. Once we switched to DSLR cameras things became a little better. We could at least see what the results were right away and were able to get closer to focus with the use of masks over the front of the scope. After about 3 years of many disappointments and techniques tried, we were starting to get reasonable results. Like Ron Wodaski said “There is no problem that can’t be solved in Astrophotography if you throw enough money at it”. This went on for 7 years until I retired and moved to Iowa in 2008. Here I built a permanent observatory which I run from inside my home. Every new moon with weather conditions permitting I am photographing the night sky. I can’t help wandering, on occasion, when I am photographing some distant galaxy if there isn’t a being of some sort photographing my galaxy the Milky Way at the same time. Galactic viewing all month at FMAAA gallery open Tuesday-Saturday from 10am to 5pm.