September 26, 2020

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BY STEPH SMITH

Have you ever stared at the night sky and marvelled at its vastness?

For some people, staring off into space is the whole point of travelling to certain locations around the world.

As an amateur astronomer enamoured by space, Pete Daniel is what you would call an astro-tourist, meaning that he travels for the purpose of astronomy. Astro-tourism can involve anything from visiting observatories to stargazing, or even simply wanting a good vantage point of the lunar eclipse.

“I’m not a scientist, just a hobbyist,” Daniel said.

On Jan. 8 Daniel held a unique presentation on the topic at the Rockway Senior Centre, located on King Street in downtown Kitchener. It was an intimate opportunity, as only a handful of people attended.

Daniel kicked off the presentation with film slides projected using a Rollei projector. Taken during the late ’70s and ’80s, the photos were of several locations around the world including Switzerland, Australia, some of the eastern U.S., Hawaii and most of the southwestern U.S.

Many of Daniel’s photos during the first half of the presentation were landscapes, tourist spots and national parks that he saw along the way to space centres and observatories.

As an avid photographer, Daniel said that he likes to use a polarizing filter to make his photos more vivid. Some of these beautiful photos included an extensive collection taken at the canyons in both Utah and Arizona. Daniel has made many trips to these locations for both hiking and photography.

“Depending on the weather conditions, it’s a photographer’s paradise, really. White sandstone, orange, brown. It’s also a hiker’s paradise.”

In June 1983, Daniel travelled to Florida to watch and photograph the launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger. The shuttle was set to launch at 7:30 a.m. on June 18, about an hour after sunrise. The viewing location was about 10 miles away from the launch site.

“How do you get good pictures from here of that? You borrow a big camera lens.”

Using a massive 1,000 millemetre f/11 lens and an equally large tripod, Daniel was able to capture photos of Challenger’s ascent.

“The shuttle goes up really fast. You have about less than a minute to get five or six photographs. I was not using a speed shutter.”

The second half of his presentation was focused on photos of the sky and space. These included photos that Daniel had taken of the starry sky, as well as those of constellations and planets, such as Saturn.

Daniel shared what he referred to as tripod shots, where you leave the shutter on the camera open for five or more minutes. This resulted in a night sky with small lines of streaky stars as the Earth rotated during the time the shutter was open. If the exposure time was a lot longer, the star trails would increase in length.

By attaching his camera to the telescope or by putting one of the telescope’s viewfinder lenses on his camera’s lens, Daniel was able to get photos of constellations and planets, as well as close-up photos of the moon.

Daniel also touched on how technology has changed the way amateur astronomers are taking photos. Using digital cameras and software, they can now achieve closer photos with higher resolution.

“I get blown away when I see this in magazines sometimes, what the amateurs are doing now. The amateurs are doing now what the professionals did 10, 20 years ago using million-dollar equipment.”

Daniel has been an astro-tourist for about 40 years and is part of the Kitchener-Waterloo chapter of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC). If you’re interested in astronomy or are looking to learn more, check the RASC website at www.rasc.ca for more information regarding the topic, local observing sites and stargazing tours.

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