Click here to see a full size, interactive, and zoomable image complete with plate solve


This past summer I read John Van Dyke’s book: The Desert. It really sat with me because of his beautiful language describing the desert. I must say I was excited to finish the book after the first few pages. There’s a loyal dog (Cappy) along for the ride too, as if you needed any more persuasion. The subject can be summed up as a journey through the deserts of California, New Mexico, and Arizona in the late 1800s. If you suddenly wanted to go to the beach after reading “Old Man and the Sea”, then this book is for you. In it, a 40-something lawyer from New York, Van Dyke sets out to explore the deserts of the midwest. There seems to be a lot of conjecture and theory as to why or how he went into the desert so I’d advise just reading it and checking out everyone’s hot takes later.

Written in the late 19th century, much of the western US had been traversed, but remained a mystery to most people. Van Dyke, is keenly aware of how civilization is creeping in and removing our ability to appreciate the “land at rest”. Few would argue the contrast of the odd juxtaposition of an urban civilization and the desolate desert. Van Dyke for his part says it’s this “weird solitude, grim silence, and great desolation that eventually causes the wanderer to fall in love with the desert”. Having fallen in love with the desert a few years back in my travels I can attest to this statement. But I would add that it’s also this solitude that reminds me of why I enjoy my family and friends as much as I do. Maybe a necessary loneliness. As with most books I read, it isn’t until time passes that I come to my own thoughts on the matters. This is true of this book, although I did enjoy Van Dyke’s descriptions of the desert almost immediately.

Some of my friends sometimes dismiss my love of the stars. I suspect it’s because of the same weird solitude found in them. It’s one thing to look up at night and think on the great distances between and quite another to investigate or understand those distances. Van Dyke’s book illustrates this disconnect brilliantly. I don’t slight my friends who miss this realization, instead I spend most of my time trying to show them space’s beauty. I’m a big believer of a picture being worth a thousand words and so I generally just release the photo and hope folks do some research on it. I try to present it with the colors our eyes would see if we were close enough to discern the visible spectrums and I try to describe my processes that allowed me to capture the photos.

And so we arrive at my latest capture of space. Compared to my last few images out of the observatory, this one is pretty bleak. I’d describe it as those silvery peaks that Van Dyke talks about (seen one, seen them all). We’ve seen space photos a thousand times. What’s any different about this one? Well, this area of space is know as the Virgo Supercluster. It’s given this name because of the sheer amount of galaxies found in it. On the outset you see stars and some “faint fuzzies” as galaxies are often referred too, but for the most part it is dark, desolate, and lonely space. That is, until you realize that we… that is to say, OUR GALAXY is part of this local supercluster- The Virgo Supercluster. From superclusters we start talking about filaments and then it gets real trippy. I won’t go down that rabbit hole in this post. :). I’ll save that for later.

The picture above is a perfect illustration of Van Dyke’s described disassociation. A disconnect between seeing something every day and seeing something for the first time. We know it’s space, but almost immediately, we are disassociated from it because of the immensity. Too large for us to grasp… too giant a concept for us to think about. Lost. Almost immediately. Just like the desert when you think about it. In the linked image if you press the letter “Q” on your keyboard, or the crosshairs at he top, you’ll see the plate solve. Every galaxy we’ve managed to identify. Every highlighted object you see is a galaxy. That’s right. A galaxy. Like our own Galaxy which is thought to have between 800 billion to 1 trillion planets. So let’s take the small estimate. That’s 800 billion times 2.2 trillion (the estimated amount of galaxies in our universe*it’s probably much higher*) and that gives us this stupid number: 1.6e+24. I *THINK* it is a SEPTILION, but we’d need a true math wiz to confirm that. Yeah. That’s a bunch of planets.

I’m making this comparison for a reason. And that’s to say, ‘It’s ok if you don’t “GET” space”. Or if the enormity of it is too much. That weird solitude can be unnerving. Instead, consider the ramifications of such a large expanse. Yes, solitude in terms of distance and feeling, but the reality of it is of endless possibilities. I guess, as an optimist I like this conclusion. All of those planets out there, all of that space. As one of my favorite authors said, “if we are alone, seems like pretty big waste of space”. For me there is comfort in the thought that life may exist in so many different ways. Not weird Hollywood alien life, but sentient life.

For my part? -I’ll take the weirdness in all its forms.

For yours? -Baby steps, get on the (space) bus.


Technical Data

Acquisition:

March 6th-April 24, 2021

Integration:

180 x 60s Luminance

180 x 60s Red

180 x 60s Green

180 x 60s Blue 

12 Total Hours 

Equipment: 

Takahashi FSQ106 w/Takahashi 645 Reducer @ f3.6, 380mm

QHY600m + QHY7CFW

Antlia LRGB Pro 50mm filters & Baader 50 Ha, O3

WO Guidescope, QHY5lii Guide Cam

Astro-Physics Mach 1 

Processing in Pixinsight:

-Calibration with Weighted Batch Pre Processing with Darks, Bias, and Flats + Cosmetic Correction. 

-Star Aligned 

-Slight Crop via Dynamic Crop

-Dynamic Background Extraction

-Masters Placed into LRGB combination

-Photometric Color Calibration

-Histogram Transformation on RGB + L 

-LRGB Combination

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