Patience, patience, patience, astronomy is largely about patience. For anyone who owns a telescope or has tried astrophotography, you know that patience is the core virtue to embrace. This past week, I was blessed with a gift. What was that gift, you may ask? I received my first, used, dedicated monochrome astronomy camera! My first thought was, “Wow!!! Thank you!” My second thought was, “How do I turn it on?”
After a lot of research and embracing the learning curve of this ZWO ASI178 Monochrome Cooled Camera, I plugged it into my computer to do a test image. “It’s alive!!” I jokingly proclaimed as I heard the cooling fan kick in and looked at the crude image of my family pictures that hang in my rectory office. Dr. Frankenstein, I am not, but step one of understanding how to use a dedicated astronomy camera is complete!
After feeling a little mental exhaustion prepping for the next step of adapting it to my telescope and calibration, I decided to take a break and catch up on some space news. I found this very informative video on the calibration process of the James Webb Space Telescope.
Remember in my previous post when I reflected on how citizen science programs make me appreciate professional astronomy? Well, here is another example. As I’m learning about pixel pitch, pixel size, and the complexities of calibrating a rather basic astronomy camera, I am in awe learning about the calibration process for the James Webb Space Telescope.
My little 6.5 Megapixel camera takes images in monochrome (black and white). The strength of a monochrome camera over a one shot color camera is that you can use filters to “build images.” For example, if I want to build a color image of an object, I take images of the same object through a blue, green, and red filter. I combine the colors and create the image.
I can also use narrowband filters to isolate thin portions of the light spectrum. I decided to invest in a filter wheel and filters that include Hydrogen Alpha, Sulfur, and Oxygen III. These filters will allow me to do two things:
1. Experiment with creating “Hubble Pallet” images (topic for a future post).
2. I can take images from my backyard of deep space objects since narrow band imaging cuts out a lot of light pollution (still, nothing beats dark skies).
Everything I’m sharing with you is pretty basic in the astrophotography world. Still, this process of understanding the difference between “building an image” and “taking an image” brings me back to the James Webb Telescope. James Webb’s “camera system” is dedicated to the Infrared spectrum. Here’s another NASA video explaining how James Webb will observe objects.
Needless to say, the spectrograph of the James Webb telescope sees and analyzes objects in a very different way than my little monochrome camera.
Last week, NASA held a press conference updating the status of the James Webb Space Telescope. A reporter asked, “So when will the James Webb Space Telescope see ‘first light?'” First light is a term astronomers and astrophotographers use to describe the first object they observe or image with their new gear. Watching the video above, I can understand why the people from NASA struggled to answer the question because James Webb’s observing is completely different from what we think of as “imaging.”
Again, welcome to that moment of understanding just enough about science as a hobby to be amazed at those who do science for a profession. Here’s a little more about what James Webb will observe from a recent 60 Minutes episode.
Reflection: In faith, we speak of the gift of Awe and Wonder. For me, learning about the James Webb Space Telescope and astronomy in general is a constant source of this Gift of the Holy Spirit. How do you see Awe and Wonder in your daily life? Does astronomy give you that sense of wonder? Does astronomy help you feel closer to God? Pray with these questions and happy Monday!