Who am I?

My name is Richard Bloch. I study astrophysics at York University in Ontario, Canada, and am engaged in research and public outreach at the university's astronomical observatory. On clear nights, I like to drive out of the city where I can do astrophotography and my own observing.

Astronomy: Personal and Professional

I've been interested in astronomy my entire life, but I never thought of it as something that I could (or would want to) do as a job. It wasn't until my first year of studies in politics, when I took a mandatory science credit (and chose astronomy) that I realized how much I really wanted to know things in-depth. I changed programs, joined the observatory, bought a telescope, and was hooked!

As my knowledge grew, I began to take part in research projects at the observatory; eventually I became comfortable enough to branch out and do my own research as well. It has been a fascinating journey that has given me a great appreciation for the complexity of the universe in which we live.

This is what I look like in England. I assume I look similar elsewhere, too.

Astronomy With My Eyes

My first telescope was an Orion SkyQuest XT8 dobsonian. I didn't have a lot of money to spend, and I liked the idea of finding objects using charts the 'old way', to familiarize myself with the night sky. Ironically, I ignored reviews suggesting it was not a good purchase for astrophotography, as I had no interest in pursuing that avenue.

In the last few years, I've spent a lot of time with this telescope working my way through the Messier catalogue, and the brighter NGC objects, as well as keeping my eye on the Solar System!

I saw some amazing things through this telescope. After taking some pictures of the Moon with my iPhone 4 to share what I'd seen with others, I began to think about astrophotography as a way to share the wonderful things I could see with those who weren't present; and a way to share my excitement about the wonders of the universe.

Astronomy With A Camera

When I finally did decide to get involved in astrophotography, I purchased a Celestron AVX mount, and a Canon 600D, and started shooting extremely wide field. But as with everyone else who starts down this road, I soon found myself purchasing upgrade after upgrade, until I had a setup that I could happily use to gather a lot of different pictures.

On clear nights, I would go out of the city to shoot; on cloudy nights, I would stay home and reprocess my images to see what new things I could learn. Every time an old shot turned out better with a new touch, I would learn something new.

Now I have a bit of a routine. I'll pick up some food and energy drinks, and head out of the city to arrive at my site by dusk. I set up to start shooting 90 minutes after sunset, and shoot until 2 hours before sunrise. I use those two hours to take my calibration frames, and then I pack up and head home. Depending on the weather or the company, I also take my trusty 8" dob to do some visual work while my camera happily snaps photos all night. To avoid wrecking my dark adaptation, the visual work is usually done in the middle of the night, when I have no business opening my laptop.

Why "Deep Sky Effect"?

In one of my earlier nights of observing, I had galaxies M81 and M82 on my list for the night. I knew they weren't separated by a large distance, so I thought it would be a neat way to knock off two new objects without having to perform two searches through the sky. What I wasn't expecting was that through my XT8, with a 25mm eyepiece, I could see both galaxies in the same view.

I'd had some 'wow' moments before, but something was different this time. The fact that I could see both these objects, so remote from us (and from each other) twinned in the same view; knowing that these two were interacting over hundreds of millions of years, made me feel connected to the universe in a way I hadn't before. For a short time, with light they sent out before humans ever walked this Earth, I was a part of their story.

In the time since then, that feeling has never left me. That 'connectedness' is still there, but I feel it most with deep sky objects. Jupiter or the Moon are familiar - they're 'home'. But on quiet clear nights, when I sit at the eyepiece of my telescope and look at nebulae, clusters, and other galaxies, I still feel like I'm alone with those precious few photons streaming through my telescope. And for as long as I sit at that telescope, they connect me to the universe above.