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Celebrating the Cosmos Every Day (With Robert Nemiroff)

Dean chats with Robert Nemiroff, one of the creators of the Astronomy Picture of the Day website.They discuss the site's legacy and various astrophotography techniques.

Homework assignment:

Look for Venus, very low in the western sky right after dark. It will be there every sunset through the rest of 2024!

Send us your thoughts at or post them on social media using #lookinguppod

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Looking Up is transcribed using a combination of AI speech recognition and human editors. It may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.

Dean: With astronomical discoveries coming daily…

Narrator of This Week at NASA: A few of the stories to tell you about this week at NASA.

Dean: Where can you go to find a new picture taken of outer space and learn a bite sized bit of scientific and cool info along the way? If only there was a website out there that could share an astronomical picture of the day.

From the studios of Cincinnati Public Radio, I'm your host Dean Regas, and this is Looking Up.

The show that takes you deep into the cosmos, or just to the telescope in your backyard. To learn more about what makes this amazing universe of ours so great. Our guest today is Robert Nemiroff, one of the creators of your favorite daily dose of inspiration, the website, astronomy picture of the day.[00:01:00]

I don't know if you've stumbled upon that website as a frequent guest to astronomy picture of the day, but it is really cool. It's like nice little open it up and see what's happening in the universe. You get pictures of all sorts of things like galaxies. and planets, and auroras And space missions and that kind of thing.

And I don't know if this is a secret, but it does make people feel a little funny about it because when you see a picture of space, most likely it has been edited.

Miranda Chabot of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center: Hubble houses six scientific instruments that observe at different wavelengths. Together, they expand our vision into infrared and ultraviolet light.

That doesn't mean Hubble can show us never before seen colors. In fact, the telescope can only see the universe in shades of gray. Seeing in black and white allows Hubble to detect subtle differences in the light's [00:02:00] intensity. If one wavelength is brighter than another, That tells us something about the science of that object.

But, because color helps humans interpret what we see, NASA specialists work to process and colorize publicly available Hubble data into more accessible images.

Dean: Yeah, I mean, it's processing, photoshopping, all that kind of stuff. Now, does that take away from it? Yeah. Is it real? That's the other question. Yeah, I mean, it's still the real thing when you process it and you bring out contrast and you bring out detail and that kind of thing. The other way that they do it is stacking.

Mike Smith of Boxheadmike: Stacking is a process of taking a series of shots, including things called dark frames, and then putting them into a dedicated piece of software, that stacks them together and reduces the noise in the image.

Dean: So you take lots and lots of pictures of the same thing. So image after image after image, and there's a software that [00:03:00] can stack it.

So you take all those images, stack them up as if it's a longer exposure. And then you get even more detail. So how do you get started in astrophotography? So many people are really starting to take pictures of things in space. You have your phone now that can do amazing things in the nighttime sky. And what I do, and this is you know, for the beginner is I got my phone and I've got an adapter that I can put my phone into that can just kind of screw onto the eyepiece of a telescope.

That's the way I take my pictures. You can do this too, with your own phone, with your own equipment. And I think our guest here might have some advice as well. Well, Robert, thanks so much for joining me today.

Robert: Thanks for having me on.

Dean: Now I knew that astronomy picture of the day has been around for a while, but it began in 1995 to take us back to the.

Early days of the internet. [00:04:00] How did it all get started?

Robert: Oh yeah, 1995. Then I worked at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

from NASA's The Dream That Wouldn't Down: Robert Goddard was the discoverer of the world of the rocket.

Robert: I had two office mates, one of which was Jerry Bonnell. Growing up at the time was this, this internet, this thing called the web. We got in conversations as to how it can be useful. So at the same time, both of us were getting emails. from people around that had attachments of astronomy images. And it occurred to us that we could come up with a webpage and every day we could just post one of these images, some of the images that are going around.

And since we're both astronomers, we could just give a short explanation as to what it really is. So we started posting these images. The thing sort of took off and we're still going. We're going to hit our 29th anniversary pretty soon. So yeah, it's been quite a [00:05:00] ride.

Dean: So, you add it all up, a picture a day for all these years, how many images have you featured?

Robert: Well, I think it's over 5, 000. I think I stopped counting over 5, 000. We do have what we call best ofs, which some people call reruns, many times on weekends, usually on Sundays. Because a lot of times, the more recent viewers of APOD haven't seen the best images from the 1990s and the 2000s. But now we can run it in a large, slightly larger format and we can renew the sometimes think that more things are known about it so we can improve the text, the short explanation, and we can improve the links because a lot of the links from the 2000s no longer work.

So we do rerun some of the better ones.

Dean: Well, wait, what's now? Now I'm intrigued. What are the greatest images of all time?

Robert: A lot of them have stories behind them. There is a picture of a guy standing on a, on a peak of some sort. It actually is pretty close to the camera. [00:06:00] And his arms are up in the air, and there's magnificent aurora in the background. And there are city lights below him. from his peak. And it's all in one shot.

So the story behind that is they wanted to get a picture of this guy standing on this cool snow covered peak with Aurora in the background, but there weren't any Aurora for a day or so. And so the guy on the bottom of the peak with the camera was waiting and waiting and it was cold, but all of a sudden Aurora lit up the sky.

This is in Norway. His friend raised his arms. He took a picture and it is an amazing picture. When that was sent in, we know sometimes right away, like, yeah, that's it.

Dean: Yeah, I think people would be surprised to learn that a lot of the images you feature are from amateur astronomers. Aren't you, like, inspired by some of these pictures taken by your average backyard astronomer?

Robert: Yeah, absolutely. The average backyard astronomer can actually do something that the major astronomers generally cannot.[00:07:00]

And that is they can take wide and deep images. Most major telescopes have very small fields of view, so they get relatively small objects, very deep. And many amateurs have actually discovered faint nebulae that connect other nebulae and outer parts of nebulae, and even galaxies that have faint strands of where they collided with other galaxies in the past.

So, yeah, amateurs. Can discover different things than many professional observatories.

Dean: Well, so how does one submit a picture to Astronomy Picture of the Day and what kind of things are you looking for?

Robert: So on the, our main site at apod. nasa. gov, there is a submissions link there. So we like topical images.

We like if something happened, like let's say, Coincidentally, if there was a total solar eclipse last month, we want to get images for that. People want to see images of the latest events. But there's also the classics. People will take images of things like the Eagle Nebula and the Ring Nebula and Andromeda Galaxy.

And so a lot of these images are popular too. [00:08:00]

Dean: How long do you think Astronomy Picture of the Day will last? How long are you guys in for with this?

Robert: My favorite answer to that question is, at least until tomorrow, if you look on today's Astronomy Picture of the Day and there's a tomorrow line that's not blank, then we're thinking of going at least till tomorrow.

But NASA has been asking us what our succession plan is, to have a transition plan to younger people in the next 10 years or so. With that goal in mind, it looks like NASA is going to be supporting Astronomy picture of the day into the indefinite future, which we are really happy about.

Dean: And you have a new book that's out too called faster than light. Tell us about that.

Robert: I'm a professor of physics at Michigan Technology University, and some of my research has to do with some things that move faster than light. Now, it's popularly known that things with mass cannot move faster than light. And as they tried to get near light speed, they would become so massive, they couldn't, couldn't pass it.

So however, there are things that can go faster than light, laser spots and shadows, distant [00:09:00] galaxies. And I had a lot of fun writing it. It's available on Amazon, faster than light, how your shadow can do it, but you can't. And it's just came out this past year.

Dean: Oh, well, congratulations. And it's so great to talk to you about this because it's one of my favorite sites of all time.

Robert: Thank you very much, Dean. It's really been real nice talking to you. Great show, by the way.

Dean: Thank you. Thank you.

So I thought we'd take a little look at the planet Venus and its changing place in the sky. This is a really good time of year to start getting into Venus watching because Venus is so incredibly bright. I mean, it is suspiciously bright. You see this in the night sky and you, you take a double take.

You're like, what, what's this thing following me? What's this UFO in the sky? That's what Venus is like.

The Man in Black from X-Files: No other object has been misidentified as a flying saucer more often than the planet Venus.

Dean: And it switches from being visible in the morning sky right before sunrise to the evening sky just after [00:10:00] sunset.

So when it's visible in the morning, it's nicknamed the morning star. It's not a star, but that's what they nickname it. And in the evening, they call it the evening star. So at the beginning of 2024, Venus was visible in the morning sky before dawn, but it will pop out in the evening skies in July. So your homework is to look for it very low in the western sky right after dark and it will be there every sunset through the rest of 2024.

Maybe you can take pride in discovering a planet up in the sky and then, of course, take a picture of it.

Looking up with Dean Regas is a production of Cincinnati Public Radio. Kevin Reynolds and I created the podcast. Ella Rowen is our show producer and editor and wishes there was a website called Sound Effects of the Day. Oh man, can we add a sound effect [00:11:00] right here? Your favorite one?

Wilhelm: [scream]

Dean: Marshall Verbsky assists with audio production, editing, and will someday start his dream website, Glasses Wearers of the Day.

Yeah, maybe I can be on Friday. Jenell Walton is our Vice President of Content. Ronny Salerno is our Digital Platforms Manager. And Brittany Mayti is our Social Media Coordinator. Our theme song is Possible Light by Ziv Moran. And our cover art is by Nicole Chance. Keep looking up!