IN PHOTOS: Shooting for the stars
BAGUIO CITY, Philippines – What started as a childhood dream is now a reality, inspired by pioneering and great astronomers such as Galileo, Leonardo Da Vinci and Allen Hale who commissioned one of the world’s largest 200-inch telescopes in Mt Palomar in California.
Baguio-born and raised John Nassr got his first 3-inch telescope at the age of 6. The scope was a Gilbert 3-inch Newtonian reflector mounted on a black cardboard tube with a plastic focuser and Ramsden eyepiece. It was given by a friend in grade school, someone who wasn’t using the telescope in the early-60s and which led John to a lifelong inspiration and hobby of shooting for the stars.
Inspired by a coloring book about the stars and heavenly bodies in his younger days a few decades ago, John thru the years, has become one of the leading self- taught astronomers in the country.
From a hobby it became a lifelong passion, as he set up his own observatory on a hilly portion inside their compound in South Drive, Baguio City. He had a home-built space telescope and a canopy that opens up to the skies. John ordered from a highly specialized optics shop a 16-inch Newtonian telescope; it was tailored to his needs.
Then in 2008, he set up the telescope in his personal observatory. Commissioning the telescope saved him some money since the equipment would cost around US$20,000 when purchased directly from suppliers. In comparison, his specifically designed telescope cost only $10,000.
The telescope is equipped with a refrigeration unit used as cooling device to prevent the telescope's circuitry to overheat during long-range and long-time exposures. Shooting an image in deep space requires a time exposure of around 8 to18 hours – this is the time required to be able to get the images of distant galaxies and nebulas.
But with recent advances in digital photography, cameras equipped with charged couple devices (CCD) have revolutionized astro-photography as amateurs can now come up with clear and vivid photos of the stars, planets, galaxies and other heavenly bodies. 12- to 14-inch digital camera- mounted telescopes can do the trick.
Asked about what stars and heavenly bodies loves shooting and tracking, John says the comets are the most challenging as these heavenly bodies are located in deep space and are full of surprises. They also change in physical form on a daily basis. One of John's favorite images is the ancient Comet Ison which eventually died and disintegrated when it orbited near the sun. He is now closely monitoring Comet Lovejoy, which is seen by the naked trained eye in the Northeastern portion of the skies, right beside the Big Dipper.
John’s observatory is now a sort of Mecca for astronomy students, hobbyists, and the like. The Rizal Technology University is ow offering a degree program in Astronomy, one of the few academies doing so.
"Fifty years later, I still dabble in astronomy and now have a considerably larger home-built, 16-inch Newtonian telescope. It is essentially a blown-up version of my first Gilbert scope," John says.
"This 7-hour exposure of the 'Foxfur Nebula' NGC 2264 was taken through the 16-inch scope and a specialized CCD camera cooled to -15 degrees Celsius. It is a strikingly beautiful hydrogen rich region in the constellation Orion where new stars are born. It is my way of saying hello and thank you to John Silva, my grade school classmate and best friend," John adds.
John’s amazing images of heavenly bodies are mounted in his own pizza restaurant along Session Road and in Camp John Hay in Baguio City. You can also get a glimpse of his work on stardustobservatory.com. – Rappler.com