PixInsight – Interview with Harry Page (Harry’s Astro Shed)

In my last blog post, I interviewed Juan Conejero of Pleiades Astrophoto, S.L. Juan is the principal developer of PixInsight. While discussing the learning curve for PixInsight, Juan mentioned Harry Page and Harry's excellent series of PixInsight video tutorials. I contacted Harry to see if he would be interested in talking with us about PixInsight and his videos and I'm delighted to say that Harry graciously agreed to an interview. Included below is our conversation.

What motivated you to create your first PixInsight video tutorial?
Finding that PixInsight helped me transform my images and offered many things that I personally thought were unique or difficult to recreate in other packages, I became a PixInsight Disciple trying to spread the word to others of how PixInsight could help them. But, I soon came across the "too difficult for me" scenario, which I did understand as PixInsight looks different from some other packages (ok I will say it Photoshop) even though given a little time and effort you will soon be wondering what all the fuss was about.
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PixInsight – Interview with Juan Conejero (Pleiades Astrophoto, S.L.)

Today is a very big day for Share Astronomy!  First, we're proud to announce the addition of several new features:

  • Image Galleries
  • Articles (The Share Astronomy Guide to Observatory Site Selection)
  • Vendor Showcase

We are very excited about these changes; please take some time to check them out! (If you're an astrophotographer please be sure to upload some of your images; just go to the My Images page to get started.)

Second, as part of our celebration, we have a great interview. Today's interview is with Juan Conejero of Pleiades Astrophoto, S.L.  Pleiades Astrophoto is based in Valencia Spain and is the company responsible for PixInsight.   PixInsight has attracted a lot of attention from astrophotographers all over the world and many people think it is rapidly becoming the "next big thing" when it comes to astro image processing software. We are very honored that Juan would take the time to answer our questions and we are sure you will find this interview interesting and thought provoking.

How did Pleiades Astrophoto get started and how has it changed over the years?
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Deep Sky Colors – Astro-Imaging at it’s Best

Deep Sky Colors Screen ShotI spend a lot of time looking at astronomy-related web sites. I see some good ones and I see some not so good ones. Some of the good ones are very good and I decided that it's time I started sharing them with you. If you have sites that you would like to share, please enter a comment below. Please make sure your recommendations are astronomy-related, though.

My first recommendation is Deep Sky Colors – Astrophotography by Rogelio Bernal Andreo. There are many excellent astro-imaging sites on the web but I think this site is outstanding. Why?  Well, for one thing, Rogelio Bernal Andrea is one of the best imagers in the world. His images have been chosen for the Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) 11 times and he has been selected for several prestigious awards. Another thing I like about Deep Sky Colors is the nice organization and thought that went into the web site. It is well laid out, easy to navigate and very attractive. To be honest, I won't be selecting my highlighted web sites based on their look and feel – I will primarily concern myself with content. However, it sure doesn't hurt if the site looks great. And this one does. Finally, I think this is an exceptional web site because it includes interesting blog posts (I really liked the one about the star party at Pinar de Araceli, Granada, Spain), some really nice tutorials (several about PixInsight) and a PixInsight Reference Guide. The PixInsight Reference Guide is a very valuable resource since information about PixInsight is relatively rare compared to some other image processing software and PixInsight doesn't have documentation as this time.

The time you spend on Deep Sky Colors won't be wasted. Check it out when you have a chance!

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Astro-Imaging – Post 1 – Getting Started

Up until recently my amateur astronomy activities were focused primarily on visual observing. However, I have decided to learn astro-imaging. This is bound to be an interesting and challenging endeavor. First, you need equipment and software (perhaps a surprising amount of each). Second, you need to learn to use that equipment and software. Once you are reasonably competent with everything, you can focus on becoming a quality imager. This process can take years or perhaps a lifetime – there's always something new to learn.

This blog post is the first in an occasional series of blog posts that will detail my experiences with astro-imaging. I imagine, like all good stories, there will be comedy (laughing) and drama (crying). Let's hope there's more comedy than drama! For those of you who aren't interested in astrophotography, no worries – my interviews and other blog posts will continue just like now. For those of you who are intermediate or advanced astro imagers and not really interested in the exploits of someone new to the hobby, don't worry. Share Astronomy will be enhanced soon with a new Articles Section featuring in-depth articles of interest to everyone including intermediate and advanced imagers. (I'm looking for more authors – if you're interested please email me at Ken <dot> Hudson <@> nealstreetdesign <dot> com. I'd love to talk with you.)
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Advanced Imaging Conference (AIC) 2010 – Interview with R. Jay GaBany

Are you interested in astro-imaging? If you answered "yes" then you've probably heard of the Advanced Imaging Conference (AIC). It's probably fair to say that the Advanced Imaging Conference brings together more astrophotographers than any other imaging conference in the world. This year the AIC 2010 will be held from October 22-24 at the Hyatt Regency Santa Clara in Santa Clara, California. Recently, I had the pleasure to interview R. Jay GaBany who is the Webmaster and Marketing & Communications person for AIC 2010. We had a very interesting discussion that covered a lot of ground. My interview with Jay is included below:

You are advertising a new and improved venue for this year's conference. What we can expect from The Hyatt Regency Santa Clara?
The Hyatt Regency Santa Clara is a luxury, AAA Four Diamond hotel that just went through $12 million renovation and it looks brand new inside. The rooms are quiet and all have been upgraded with new carpeting, new furniture and 32- inch LCD HDTV's, for example. There are three specialty restaurants (Sushi, Mediterranean and American cuisines) on site and we've negotiated discounts for our attendees. In short, this year's AIC hotel is in a different class from the one we've used in the past. Significantly, the conference room rate has not changed in over four years- it's only $99 per night- but rooms at this rate are limited.

Let's talk numbers. How many attendees are you expecting this year? Speakers? Sessions? Vendors?
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Spectroscopy – Interview with Olivier Thizy (Shelyak Instruments)

At Share Astronomy we are very interested in citizen science. In my opinion, one of the most influential people involved in promoting professional / amateur collaboration in astronomy is Olivier Thizy. Mr. Thizy is one of the co-owners of Shelyak Instruments headquartered in Revel, France. Shelyak Instruments produces a wide range of spectroscopy products (e.g., Lhires Lite, Lhires III, eShel, etc.) designed to promote scientific astronomy within the amateur community. Recently, I was fortunate enough to interview Mr. Thizy. The interview is included below:

You are a co-owner of Shelyak Instruments. How did you get started in spectroscopy and what motivated you to start a company that manufactures spectroscopes, spectrographs and related equipment for amateur astronomers?
When I started astronomy in a club in 1980, I loved watching for the stars at night and deep sky observing with a small refractor that my parents offered me at Christmas. But I quickly wanted to go beyond simply watching or imaging celestial objects and looked for scientific projects to conduct. I started with photometry first with jupiter moon mutual phenomena (I remember putting a motor on a SLR so the film was slowly moving while capturing the flux of a satellite as a trail; analyzing the trail later on gave indication on exact event timing). I then studied asteroids and their light curves providing interesting data on their shape. I started to be interested in spectroscopy in general in 2000.
In 2003, I participated in a professional/amateur symposium organized by the French research organization CNRS. It became obvious that amateurs did not have the proper equipment, lacking resolution to detail absorption line profiles in stellar spectra. François Cochard, co-owner of Shelyak Instruments, Christian Buil, Yvon Rieugné and I worked that year to design a high resolution spectrograph – Lhires. We industrialized the Lhires and made it available at cost as a one-time offer within the French AUDE non profit association whose goal is to promote science in astronomy. This one-time offer was so successful that François and I decided to start a company to continue to make the Lhires III available and promote spectroscopy among amateur astronomy. We then extended our product range including the first commercial echelle fiber fed spectrograph to astronomy.
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Posted in Interviews, Spectroscopy | 5 Comments

Astro Imaging – MWAIC, AIC and PixInsight Workshop

I just returned from the Midwest Astro-Imaging Conference and Mac Astronomy Workshop (MWAIC) held in Hoffman Estates, IL (near Chicago). What a great conference! I'll tell you all about it, but first I'd like to draw your attention to two up-coming astro-imaging events.

The first event is a PixInsight Workshop by Vicent Peris at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago from September 10-12, 2010. PixInsight is an advanced image processing program designed specifically for astrophotography and "other technical imaging fields". Vicent Peris is an astrophotographer at the Astronomical Observatory of the University of Valencia in Spain and he's also a principal member of the PixInsight Development Team. If you are unfamiliar with this product I would highly recommend that you visit the PixInsight web site and learn more. I will have additional blog posts about PixInsight in the future.
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Swinburne Astronomy Online – Interview With Four Alumni

Last week I published an interview with Sarah Maddison of Swinburne Astronomy Online (SAO). This week I am happy to publish interviews with four alumni of SAO. If you have ever thought about getting a postgraduate degree in astronomy I am sure you will find these interviews fascinating and inspirational. Each of the people interviewed has a unique and interesting story. The interviews are listed below in alphabetical order by last name.

Emil LencEmil Lenc is a former engineer who is now a postdoctoral fellow at CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization) Astronomy and Space Science. (CSIRO is Australia's national science agency.)

What was your educational and professional background prior to attending Swinburne Astronomy Online (SAO)?

I had a Bachelor degree in Electrical and Electronic Engineering and a Master degree in Engineering (by research).
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Interview with Sarah Maddison – Swinburne Astronomy Online

Sarah Maddison SwinburneHave you ever wished that you could get a degree in astronomy? I'm sure that many of you are responding with a resounding "yes!". Guess what? You probably can get a degree in astronomy. Depending on where you live and your educational background, you may actually have many choices. One potential option available to people worldwide (assuming they meet the entry requirements, etc.) is Swinburne Astronomy Online (SAO). Swinburne Astronomy Online offers postgraduate degrees in astronomy via a fully online program.

The SAO web site is excellent and it does a first class job of answering many of the questions a prospective student would have about admission requirements, costs, course (or unit) details, etc. However, I was very curious about the program and I wanted to know more. I thought the readers of Share Astronomy would want to know more, too. So, I requested the opportunity to interview a member of the SAO faculty. I’m happy to say that I was lucky enough to get to interview Dr. Sarah Maddison who is an Associate Professor of Astrophysics and the SAO Coordinator at the Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing at Swinburne University of Technology. The interview is included below.

Next week I will have a follow-up interview with four graduates of Swinburne Astronomy Online.

What kind of student would be the ideal candidate for Swinburne Astronomy Online?
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Visit Sunspot and Apache Point

I spent last week in New Mexico on vacation – what a fascinating state. For example, did you know that per capita New Mexico has more PhD's than any other U.S. state? I guess this shouldn't be surprising given the fact that Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories are both located in New Mexico. In addition, New Mexico is home to many astronomical observatories and that probably bumps up the PhD count a notch or two. The Very Large Array, Apache Point Observatory and the National Solar Observatory / Sacramento Peak (Sunspot) are all located in New Mexico.

I visited both the National Solar Observatory / Sacramento Peak (Sunspot) and Apache Point last week and if you are ever in Southern New Mexico I would highly recommend visiting both observatories. They are next door to each other so a visit to both of them is easy. The nearest town is the village of Cloudcroft which is a very attractive and interesting mountain town. The drive to Sunspot is beautiful.

Dunn Solar TelescopeThe National Solar Observatory (NSO) has three "Flagship Facilities", one of which is the Dunn Solar Telescope located on Sacramento Peak in Sunspot, New Mexico. There are actually several telescopes at Sunspot but the primary telescope is the Richard B. Dunn Solar Telescope (originally named the Vacuum Tower Telescope) which is shown on the left (you can click on this picture – or any of the others – to see a larger image.). This telescope is really quite unique. As you can see, the observatory – and the telescope – are tall (the building itself rises 136 feet (41.5 m) above ground and descends 228 feet (69.5 m) below ground). Light enters the telescope through a window at the top where it reflects off two 44" mirrors and then travels down a vacuum tube all the way to the bottom where it is reflected off of a 64 inch (163 cm) mirror and returned up the vacuum tube to ground level where it can be directed to various instruments. As I mentioned, the telescope is evacuated (i.e., it is a vacuum). If there was air in the tube it would be heated by the sun and cause distortion of the sun's image. Visitors are allowed into this building. You can see the ground floor laboratory but, as far as I know, visitors are not usually allowed upstairs or downstairs.
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Posted in Astronomy-related Travel, Observatories | 1 Comment