This astrophotographer took the clearest picture of the moon…10 min readReading Time: 6 minutes
How many times have you looked out your window at the moon hoping to catch a closer glimpse? Why is it shaded? Why does it look like a slice of cheese? Where do its parts go when they disappear? The moon has held the world’s fascination, from poets to young minds, from scientists at NASA to a young Amateur Astronomer and Astrophotographer from Pune, Prathamesh Jaju, who agreed to speak to Owliver this week.
Prathamesh had been taken by the universe since he was eight, and eight years later, this sense of wonder manifested in him taking the clearest photograph of the moon.
Let’s get to know this trailblazer, shall we?
I was fascinated by the wonders of our universe ever since I was 8. I used to watch movies and tv shows related to space and science like StarTrek, Star Wars and many others all the time!
To learn more about astronomy and astrophotography, I joined an astronomy club called Jyotirvidya Parisanstha (JVP) which is India’s oldest amateur astronomer association, after being a member for a while I volunteer for the same. I have been practising Astrophotography since 2018 back when I was 13 years old. Over the last few years, I’ve been taking pictures of the night sky and celestial objects, and trying my best to make my images look better.
How did photography come to him?
I’m not a lot into daytime photography that much but more into where normal photography stops which is at night, that’s where astrophotography starts.
When I was starting with Astrophotography, I saw and read that many great Astrophotographers around the world capture beautiful images of the night sky with a basic setup which was available to me at home and my Astronomy club. So, I started Astrophotography with the help of a few friends at JVP and tutorials on YouTube.
Look at the magic he created:
What is Astrophotography?
The ability to capture the nature and beauty of these objects from a small camera sensor and almost any telescope is called Astrophotography. The field of Astronomy & Astrophotography is endless and I’d love to capture and observe at least a fraction out of these bazillion astronomical objects out there in our universe.
What about space fascinates him?
Everything about the universe is mind blowing and fascinating to me! These Astronomical Objects are millions of kilometres away and a few hundred or a thousand times bigger than our Sun or the Earth. If we look into the night sky and observe the infinite vastness we should be humbled that our planet even exists…
When did he think about photographing the moon?
Well, the moon is always there, isn’t it? From highly light polluted cities, the moon is the brightest and the most beautiful object in the night sky. Before November 2020, I used to capture single images of the moon which would get blurred or pixelated when zoomed in! In November 2020, for the first time I captured a panorama of the moon!
The process of clicking the clearest picture of the moon:
My idea behind this image was that when I zoom into the image it shouldn’t get blurred or pixelated, that’s why I captured over 50,000 images over 186 GigaBytes of Data which almost killed my laptop with the processing. We can call this a panorama of the moon. I captured 38 videos covering the entire moon’s surface overlapping each other. Every video has around 1500-2000 frames.
We individually take every video, merge the best 1000-1500 frames into one image and sharpen them. Once we do the same to the other 37 videos. Now we have 38 images ready to be stitched, Imagine the complete image like a JigSaw puzzle and these 38 images are the different pieces of the puzzle and now we have to stitch/ solve it.Once, that is done. I made some final adjustments like Exposure, Contrast, Saturation, etc. and the image is ready!
We usually see the moon in the shades of grey, but the colors which we are seeing in this image represents the mineral rich surface of the moon, different minerals on the moon emit different colors. Our eyes cannot see them but different types of cameras can detect them. In order to see them vibrantly we need to enhance the colors! The blue tones reveal areas rich in ilmenite, which contains iron, titanium and oxygen, mainly titanium, while the orange and purple colors show regions relatively poor in titanium and iron.
It took me more than 40 hours to complete the processing of this particular image.
And here’s what these efforts amounted to
The biggest challenge Astrophotographers face is bad weather! In 2019, I travelled over a thousand kilometres to observe a rare astronomical phenomena which was the annular solar eclipse with my astronomy club. Annular solar eclipses are really rare; they happen as early as 150 years or as long as 200 years from one location. So, this was really exciting for me, travelling all the way to Coimbatore in Southern India. We set up all the telescopes and were all ready with the equipment, and what I saw was, the complete sky covered with clouds! This is the first lesson one I learned in Astronomy & Astrophotography, that we are not always lucky.
I’m not superstitious but events like these made me think that there is something of a cloud curse. Whenever there is some rare or any Astronomical event, there are clouds covering the entire sky ruining it. Luckily 6 months later, there was another Solar Eclipse from my own city, Pune. It wasn’t an Annular Solar Eclipse but yes, I got to witness the beauty of a partial Solar Eclipse. With Bad weather, there are many different setbacks and challenges like inadequate gear or lack of confidence but that is also the reason why I didn’t stop.
A breakthrough moment:
Every time when I’m imaging at night, processing the data in the day and seeing the final image is always a breakthrough moment for me! Every new image is my breakthrough moment. But when I posted my moon image on Reddit and I read a comment that a few Professors from NASA appreciated my work, I couldn’t express how happy I was then.
Who inspires him?
There are many great Astrophotographers that I look upto, out of them my favourite is an Iranian Astrophotographer named Amir Abolfath! He’s an absolute legend.
His plan for the future…
I plan to pursue my career in the field of Astronomy and Astrophysics.
Message for our readers:
(Trailblazers is a bi-monthly column where we feature inspiring youngsters who are doing great things, in their own way)
Would you like to nominate someone you know to be featured in this column? Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org with their name, and what makes them a Trailblazer.
Images courtesy Prathamesh Jaju