Cities gather us in different ways, we dwell them, walk around its streets and avenues attending our own eagerness. Many cities have rise over us with huge buildings that show the ability of societies to overcome our scale, and so in a display of phenomenal energy, cities keep moving.
Now days, electric light seems to be a primary need for todays society. Cities and their lights shine over the night sky, blinding our eyes of the ordinary exercise of looking to the starry night that practice our ancestors. Those who have been in the Atacama Desert know that once is late night, looking at the stars there is a different experience, from the one we are used to when we look at the stars from our “shining” cities. This thought becomes most significant while we start to think about our everyday experience. Have we lost something in the way?
Our culture as human beings, have always been related to the night sky observation. Today, new planetary systems are discovered weekly, observation tools and instruments are increasingly sophisticated; we can look at the origin of the Universe and make an image of it. We live in a fast and fascinating era in which we can dazzle with images of supernova’s explosions, nebula clouds and faraway galaxies. The understanding of what “surround us” changes radically and Astronomy raises new questions, challenging the limits of our comprehension. Now we can look farther and farther and so wider the horizon becomes.
Facing this prospect, we propose to add different points of view. Contributing to the astronomical reflection from different angles, being the scientific perspective one in many others possible. Because we are interested in poetry, music, art and design, also in casual conversation, laughter, awkwardness and contradictions, in things that move and those who stay quiet, we are interested in large and small questions of humanity.
This first edition of Galatic Magazine is the number cero and has as main subject the Birth, the origin of things and also the origin of this project. This is a starting point of a conversation that we hope will spread in time, and so will convene many voices and many views.
It’s already dark on this side of the planet and we’re on a quiet street in Ñuñoa, opposite a house, which on the outside, doesn’t reveal any peculiarity. On the inside is the IT engineer Geert Vanhauwaert, who invites us to look out the window he made in his attic to photograph the universe. We talked about the passion that takes up his nights.
In 2007 Geert Vanhauwaert was able to capture with a digital camera and from the roof of his house the comet McNaught. That was his first incursion into astrophotography. However, his admiration for the Universe dates back to his childhood trips to Belgium. At 11, his uncle suggested he get a telescope kit made up of a cardboard tube and a chromatic focus lens. “Saturn’s rings could be seen perfectly” remembers Geert. Later on, his father got a job as the manager of a technical lab at La Silla observatory, where Geert also had his first professional internship.
Surrounded by trees and brightly lit buildings, Geert welcomes us with a telescope set into his back garden, our fist stop. Later, he invites us to see his 10-inch diameter Vixen telescope. He goes upstairs, moves the sliding roof and turns on the device. We’re inside his small laboratory.
If the night presents good conditions for observing, Geert takes about 10 minutes to have the entire equipment ready. A new telescope like his can cost more than three thousand dollars, plus eight thousand dollars in mounting and assembly. Our host tells us proudly that he built a concrete pillar that doesn’t touch the floor just like in the large observatories of the planet, so as to control the movement of the telescope. Suddenly, a motor starts to sound and a tube starts moving. Geert has a camera connected to a computer that captures “at least 15 photos per filter. After the images are averaged out, the noise stops and the signal is stored”.
The Vixen telescope captures photographs taking half an hour per shot. An image like the ones exhibited on the Internet take about eight hours of work for the automated telescope, which corrects its position constantly, thus compensating for the Earth’s movement. Recently, Geert has been photographing the Eagle Nebula (m16) in narrowband. Some of the furthest objects that he has been able to watch are galaxies m83, the Centaurus A and ngc-1365. The images he gets are processed digitally, “no Photoshop”, he laughs. After observing the sky from his astronomic window he has built in his house roof, we are invited to step into the living of the house he has lived in since the 1980s. Collections of spoons and stickers decorate the room, as well as a framed puzzle. We are joined by his wife Gabriela and their cats.
Every month, Geert struggles at work to make sure that his night shift does not coincide with the New Moon. When that issue is resolved, he travels to the Roan-Jase Astronomic Observatory in El Cajon del Maipo along with Gabriela and his three telescopes. “Normally in a night you capture from one to two objects; in Santiago, it can take a week to get a decent image of an object”. He adds no season is better for taking pictures, although he admits that “some times are better for watching galaxies or nebulae”.
Since February 2010 Geert has exhibited his images on Flickr. He knows almost 20 Chilean astrophotographers and he is part of a growing community of forums about the subject on the Internet. Among his referents is the nasa Astronomic Picture of the Day and the Photographer of the Year contest from the Royal Observatory in Greenwich. Some magazines have published his work, but he warns us that “the picture of the day from nasa looks for the precise moment or originality”, not concealing his intention of wanting to capture such an image.
When we ask him what motivates him to direct his sight to the cosmos, Geert thinks for a couple of seconds and then says: “ There is so much wonder. Where did all of this come from?”.