My practical experience with Artificial Intelligence will be pushed to next week. I bumped the post because I have had a wonderful week of stars, music, and prayer. In regard to stars, I was blessed with a couple beautiful nights of clear skies. In regard to music, I got to listen to the Chippewa Valley Orchestra perform a beautiful rendition of Holst’s, The Planets. And prayer… well, as a priest, prayer isn’t something “new” this week, but I was given an insight on how to connect my week that might be meaningful for you. Let’s see if I was right!
In regard to music, a good friend Jess Vriesema, Professor of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire and alumni of the University of Arizona, invited me to an orchestra performance of Holst’s The Planets. Even though Holst’s movements were based on the mythological gods the planets are named after, the science presented between the movements provided a beautiful evening of science, music, and wonder. Here’s a snippet from a BBC production of The Planets. This is the movement Mars – The Bringer of War.
These events coupled with clear skies provided me with an “astro-heavy” week! What was my target this week? It’s a target I shared a couple posts ago – The Rosette Nebula. The reason I chose an object I already imaged is because I want to explore image building. What is image building? Image building is when you isolate one object for a week or weeks and then combine the data into one image. You may have read how amateur astronomers combined their imaging efforts to build an amazing image of Andromeda and imaged a never before seen Nebula. Here’s the image provided by Astronomy Magazine.
I highly doubt my future image stacks will approach this image of Andromeda (I don’t own a $7,000 refractor). However, my little Dwarf II gives me the ability to image while I’m doing my priestly work. Therefore, with enough clear skies, taking a month to get 10-20 hours of image data of one object is realistic. Below is my image of the Rosette Nebula that represents two hours of data collected over two nights. Will I add more to this image? Probably not. I’ve learned a lot just through the experience of how to best approach image building and how not to approach this process. So, from what I’ve learned, this image isn’t going to improve that much. Nevertheless, this image of the Rosette Nebula will always serve as my first image build with many more to come!
So, why does stacking a lot of images over many days make for a better image? If you aren’t familiar with astrophotography, there’s something called signal to noise ratio. To put it even more simply: Signal good – noise bad. Camera sensors have noise patterns that obstruct an image. Noise is a combination of sensor heat, imperfections on a camera sensor, and other factors that create a noise pattern. The noise pattern is mostly random so the more images you stack the less noise is present. This allows clarity to the photons collected and presents a better image.
Signal good – Noise bad. As I reflected on this, I couldn’t help but see image creation as analogous to our prayer life. Some may think it’s boring to image one nights sky object on every clear night for one month. However, the more signal we get and the less noise that impacts our image, the clearer we can see. Prayer is similar. When we commit to praying daily, it improves our imago/noise ratio. The noise of a culture that constantly distracts us begins to disappear into the background and what is left is an understanding of our imago, meaning how we are made in God’s image and likeness. In a similar way to astrophotography, the image is already there. We are simply trying to emphasize God’s signal and detach ourselves from the noise that taints our image to see life more clearly. Prayer is a commitment and can sometimes be perceived as boring. However, prayer is essential to let our image shine.
With this in mind, I think that using the term image building might be a bit of a misnomer. I didn’t create the Rosette Nebula. I simply am trying to view a part of God’s creation with greater clarity and understanding. We don’t create our own image of self through prayer. We are uncovering an image already present, but dimmed by a spiritual noise factor. Maybe we should call what is done image clarity vs. image building. Either way, both point us to the beauty of an authentic view of God’s creative act.
What is your spiritual signal to noise ratio? Can you see the person God has created you to be clearly or are your eyes clouded with the noise of our world? Lent is a wonderful season to de-noise the soul if we have fallen into sin. Reflect on this today, ask God to remove the spiritual noise from your life so you can discover the imago that is you. The image of love God created you to be.