Friday, February 01, 2008

webspotting 2 - APOD

First published in the Feb/Mar 2008 issue of SCOPE, the newsletter of the RASC Toronto Centre. The URL was updated. Republished here with permission.


It used to be that for one to enjoy spectacular photographs of astronomical phenomena, you had to get a thick tome with a good selection of colour "plates." Remember those books? With a gaggle of high-quality colour pages in the centre?

For more frequent updates on current events, one needed to subscribe to an excellent astronomy magazine but hope that their printer's CMYK registration was 100%. Those images, while beautiful, always seemed somehow remote and incredible. They were especially fantastic in that they were produced at distant observatories—off limits to the general public—with very large telescopes, accurately tracked in their massive mounts, carefully and continuously exposed for many long hours and corrected by accomplished astronomers and skilled technicians.

Best efforts by amateurs in the '60s and '70s with small instruments amounted to slightly fuzzy, lacklustre, pale photographs. While they were short on detail, suffered from grain, and perhaps showed some trailing or coma, there was immediacy to them. They were tangible, close to home. Today, the world is very different!  Every day you can enjoy a stunningly beautiful image of an astronomical object, be it a rich planet, a mysterious moon, a glowing cloud of hydrogen, perhaps a remote galaxy of twinkling suns. (Perhaps those solar systems are home to more budding photographers capturing the Milky Way... framing it or displaying on a networked digital page.)

Some of those images are captured by orbiting 'scopes. But, remarkably, a good portion of the wonderful images today are shot by amateur astronomers using modest telescopes and consumer grade digital cameras or chilled CCD black boxes. Whether made by professionals or amateurs, these works appear daily in the Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) web site ( Periodic visits here will make for one-stop shopping, consistently take one's breath away, and inspire.

If you don't already have the APOD site in your bookmarks or favourites, I encourage you to tag it. Visit often, perhaps daily. Many members already do. You might place it on your computer's active desktop. I’ve added it to my web portal page. It was so impressive when launched many years ago, my predecessor, Andy Schuh, added a link to our site. You’ll spot it at the bottom-left of the RASC Toronto Centre home page.

Need another reason to visit APOD daily? You might spot the work of a fellow RASCal!

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