A sky full of awesome

I love looking up at the night sky. Whenever I’m outside at night, the first thing I do is look up. How can I not? But there’s always something marring my view – light pollution, clouds, the moon, treetops, and, oh yeah, the Earth itself! I’ve often thought how great it would be if the Earth, Moon, and Sun were to vanish and to be able to see the entire night sky at the same time*. How cool would that be? This cool:

Nick Risinger’s 37,440-image portrait of the entire night sky. The entire sky.

That’s the whole night sky. The entire. Night. Sky! This work of awesome comes to us courtesy of astrophotographer Nick Risinger’s Photomic Sky Survey. And wow, what a sky it is!

The first thing that jumps out is the Milky Way. Here, we see it just as it really is – a great spiral galaxy seen edge-on, or in this case, within the disk of the galaxy itself. In fact, it’s really no different than other spiral galaxies seen edge-on as well. At center is a well-defined bulge partially obstructed by dust silhouetted by the bright stars beyond. Toward the edges are the telltale populations of younger stars. In other words, your typical spiral galaxy!

To the lower right are the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds – two irregular-shaped satellite galaxies that orbit the Milky Way.

And there is so much more detail in this image. To experience it, you really want to check out the zoomable version. Seriously, click the link. Click it now!

If that wasn’t cool enough, check out the 360-degree version; you’ll feel like you’re floating in space! Make sure you are in full-screen mode. And maybe dim the lights – it’s that awesome.

How he do that?

To pull this off, Nick travelled more than 60,000 miles around the globe for the better part of a year taking no less than 37,440 exposures of the sky at night. But it wasn’t just a matter of simply picking a destination, going there and wait for the Sun to go down and shoot. Nick had to plan his destinations well in advance to find clear, dark skies and to be there when there during New Moon.

After a year, Nick then worked to stich together all 37.440 exposures to make this beautiful all-sky masterpiece. Nick has a really cool writeup of the project. His story is as fascinating as the image itself.

An app for that

If you’d like to appreciate Nick’s gorgeous work on the go, he has an app for iPhone and iPad available. If you prefer to just hang it on your wall, there are some rather nice prints available as well (my birthday is coming up…).

I really have to hand it to Nick Risinger for a tremendous effort and a spectacular result!

* Allowing, of course, for the ability to actually survive under those conditions

An award-winning Whirlpool

Martin Pugh’s award-winning image of M51. If you really want to be blown away, check out the full resolution image. Wow!

M51, aka the Whirlpool Galaxy, is a favorite target for professional and amateur  astronomers alike. It’s a relatively nearby pair of galaxies that are interacting with one another. M51 is the large spiral, seen nearly face-on to us, and its arms are bursting with new star formation. This of course is due to the tidal interaction with its companion NGC 5195, which is a dwarf galaxy passing “underneath” one of the Whirlpool’s spiral arms.

Of course, the Whirlpool has been imaged in exquisite detail by the Hubble Space Telescope and others, but this image is a winner in more ways than one. Martin Pugh’s image was voted the overall winner in the Royal Observatory’s 2012 Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition. And yeah, click that link because even the “als0-rans” images are breathtaking. Seriously, you won’t believe that these images were made by amateur astronomers with backyard telescopes!

What amazes me about Martin’s image is the combination of subtle details and wide range of features. The wisps of scattered gas and dust from the smaller companion are rarely imaged, and yet there they are in the same image as the fine, tightly wound spiral arms near the nucleus of the Whirlpool itself. Then there are of course the fine dust lanes etched into the spiral arms, dotted with the sapphire blue that is the telltale sign of hot new stars recently born in the arms. The colors, the hues, the saturation, and the balance of capturing all of that stunning detail make this one of the best images of the Whirlpool I’ve ever seen – and yes, I’m willing to rank it up there with Hubble’s image.

Not bad at all for a guy with a 17-inch telescope! I can’t imagine the hard work, patience, and skill it must have taken to produce this image. Fortunately, Martin has a few more knockouts on his Flickr stream for our viewing and mind-blowing pleasure. Take some time to check them out, as well as browse through the contest’s photo pool which is chock-a-block of amazing astro-image awesomeness!

The coolest Curiosity descent video you will ever see

From Bard’s YouTube description “Working frame-by-frame, it took me four weeks to produce this video. It was a labor of love. You can support my efforts with a donation or just let me know that you enjoyed it.”

By now you’ve probably seen several of the videos of MSL Curiosity’s descent to the surface of Mars, but I betcha haven’t seen it like this:

Is that incredible or what? This video is brought to us not by NASA, but by Bard Canning, an “amateur” video engineer who obviously put a lot of work into creating this magnificent video.

The video is actually an interpolation of the original high-resolution video taken by the Mars Descent Imager mounted at the bottom of Curiosity. The original video was taken at a rate of of just 4 frames per second (fps), resulting in a very jerky visual. To create the smooth, natural motion, Bard had to increase the frame rate from 4fps to 30fps. But those frames don’t actually exist, so Bard had to create them!

Bard does this by using a technique called motion-flow interpolation. In other words, he had to work frame-by-frame for 4 weeks straight, creating 26 additional frames by comparing the differences between the 4 frames of the original video – for each second of footage!

But that’s not all – Bard worked hard to stabilize the video, since Curiosity was obviously swinging wildly on the way down, and even tweak the color balance of every frame of footage.

The result is a smooth, natural feeling of what it must have been like to actually descend with Curiosity through the atmosphere and land on the surface of Mars. Coupled with the actual sound from the spacecraft, and you have a video that feels more real than the actual footage!

As an added bonus, Bard was kind enough to share his movie-making magic with us in a separate video, and even a side-by-side comparison with the original video. Both are worth checking out.