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Rogelio Bernal Andreo: Digital Prometheus

Speed read
  • Award-winning astrophotography is out of this world.
  • Elapsed time and computational power key elements to his artwork.
  • Aesthetic values too often undervalued in STEM education.

At this moment, the next Albert Einstein is sitting in his bedroom surfing the internet. The next Ada Lovelace is perusing her social media feed.

Truth is, our next Hubbles or Sagans are among us, and the challenge is: How do we inspire them? How do we spark them to ignite our vision?

<strong> Lovejoy.</strong> Discovered in August 2014, this is Comet C/2014 Q2 — aka Lovejoy. Organic molecules and water released by the comet fluorescing under the harsh UV and optical light of the sun give it a blue-green glow. Courtesy Rogelio Bernal Andreo.

Perhaps the way to reach these nascent scientists isn’t through an excel spreadsheet or scrolling lines of code. Maybe the way we can kick start their passion for discovery is by showing them the skies above.

Maybe a picture really is worth a thousand words.

So argues astrophotographer Rogelio Bernal Andreo. Andreo, recognized the world over for his stunning night sky images, is relatively new to the photography game. Trained in computer science at Harvard, Andreo turned to astrophotography in 2008. A chance glimpse at the night sky while driving on a warm September evening in 2007 prompted his first photograph, and the desire to improve spurs him to ever-greater heights.

“I often say that astrophotography is like stealing a bit of the Universe and taking it home with you,” says the Spanish-born artist.

<strong> Arriba. </strong> The via lactea (Milky Way), as stacked over Big Sur, California. Courtesy Rogelio Bernal Andreo.

Like some digital Prometheus, his night raids reap rewards for the rest of us, stealing the hearts of many who have seen them.

NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day, Astronomy Magazine, National Geographic, The Royal Observatory Greenwich – his list of accolades is too long to catalog here. (Check his Wikipedia page for full details.)

Method to his magic

Andreo credits two elements for his success: Time (as in long exposures), and computation.

“The main ingredient is many hours of long exposures under dark skies; computer-powered image processing aimed at a particular goal deserves another 50 percent of the credit.”

Modesty aside, Andreo expresses the majesty of the universe like few photographers. There is a depth of detail he is able to bring forth from the void that will leave you stunned.

Lest you think this is mere hyperbole, take a look through Hawai’i Nights or Deep Sky Colors, his coffee table books (just in time for the gift-giving season — nudge nudge, wink wink).

<strong>Clouds of Orion.</strong> This 56 panel mosaic image is the result of 242 hours of exposure time (over 2,000 individual exposures), which means you're looking at 242 hours of light. The field of view is so large that 1,443 moons could fit within. Courtesy Rogelio Bernal Andreo.

Or browse his Flickr page. See for yourself, and then ask yourself if you could take photos like that.

“Astrophotography helps me pause everything else. It allows me to create, to dream, and to have many great moments. It makes me happy, and because of that, I chose to do more of it, lots of it!”

Isn’t this what we wish for all students?

Maybe Andreo is right: Maybe we shouldn’t underplay the role of aesthetics in science and miss what beauty can do to the mind of our next Galileo.

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