Star Light, Star Bright: Poison Specialist Looks to the SkiesPosted on: December 12, 2012
Paul Delligatti, a certified specialist in poison information at the Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center, spends his work days serving the public and health care providers by answering phone calls at the information center, based at the College of Pharmacy.
But at night, he is an astrophotographer, taking photos, usually through a telescope, of celestial objects.
Delligatti sets up his telescope and camera in his backyard and typically spends three to six hours taking pictures of the night sky. His otherworldly hobby began with a desire to make pictures like those he had seen on the Internet.
A Steep Learning Curve
"I looked at these images from the Hubble Space Telescope and other astrophotographers and I really wanted to do the same thing," he recalls. "I had this 8-inch telescope I got from a friend and that seemed to be suitable. I also had a decent camera, so I started to take pictures of the planets. Now I’m working more on trying to image ‘deep sky’ objects. These are things beyond our solar system, like Orion’s Nebula or the Ring Nebula."
The learning curve was steep at first, but he got the hang of it.
"You develop a certain routine that you do, but you keep open to new ideas because other astrophotographers are always trying something different with their data, to get a little something more out of it," he says.
The Internet has really made it easy, he says.
"I couldn't imagine how guys did it 30 years ago without the Internet, or with film. I mean, I talk to these old guys – not that I’m not young," Delligatti says, chuckling. "These older guys in their 70s used to bake their own film and a lot of times they had to hand-guide the telescope on the object. That means following the object from four to five hours, just to get an image. It’s so much easier today in the digital age, with our electronics."
These days – or rather, nights – he’s shooting more wide-field astrophotography.
"That’s where you’re using the camera lens, but you got the camera on something that matches the rotation of the earth," he says. "You then can follow objects longer and leave the lens open longer to get things with a broad sweep of the sky, like the Milky Way. So a lot of my pictures have been along those lines."
He also likes shooting planets – Jupiter and Saturn in particular.
"Most of my images in the past three or four years have been planetary images. Most of my investment in the equipment has been in planetary imaging. Objects like Jupiter and Saturn have so much going on with them that it provides ample opportunity for an amateur to make a contribution."
Sharing the Sky's Drama
With so many stars and objects in the sky, he keeps track of what he’s looking for with different catalogs that describe these objects and explain where they are.
"A good telescope with what’s called a ‘go-to mount' allows you to find them pretty easily," he explains. "And once you find them in the sky, then it’s just about leaving the lens open and the camera open. It’s been a lot of fun."
To get an image, he removes the camera lens and connects the camera body to the telescope to magnify everything and collect more light. With the eye, the Orion Nebula looks like fuzzy white wisps, with the Trapezium cluster of stars in the center.
"When you take an image of it, if you collect light long enough with the digital camera, you can bring out the reds and the blues, the dust clouds, the things that reflect light and the things that emit light. It becomes a more dramatic image than what appears to the naked eye. That’s what really got me into this kind of thing," he says.
He takes images whenever time in the sky permits, weather being the biggest factor.
"If I’m not working a late shift and I don’t have to get up early in the morning, and if the sky is clear and the conditions are all right, then I’ll set up an image all night. If I’m too beat or exhausted, sometimes the desire for sleep wins out," he says with a laugh.
He has thought about selling his photos, perhaps even compiling his images into some kind of graphic art.
"I might entertain the idea of doing poster art and selling images that way," he says. "But the raw images themselves and the images that I produce, I'll share. It’s copyrighted, but I'll share it."
Delligatti’s generosity with his celestial imaging talent includes volunteering in the Vail Unified School District’s monthly star parties for students and the community, helping future astrophotographers appreciate the night sky.