Looking at the amazing starry sky Portfolio

Who I am

Hello! I’m Peter and I’ve been an astronomy-buff for over thirty years. The first ten years of those I was a member of the Urania Royal Obervatory, near Antwerp, first as a member of the youth group, later as the head-tutor of the Deep-Sky department. Indeed, the “faint fuzzies” have always been my great passion, as you can tell from my drawings. From the early start I’ve made hundreds of them, also because my tutors encouraged us to make as many as we could because it’s one of the best ways to learn how to truly observe an object. It’s only when you spend a long time at the eyepiece, exploring every little detail, that your eyes adjust themselves properly and that you start to perceive those faint details which otherwise would remain hidden to you. But strangely enough I’ve only taken up drawing again very recently and now I’ve rediscovered the taste of it, it won’t let me go. So you may expect regular updates of my portfolio!

In 2010 my wife and I moved to the Emilian Apennines and for me it wasn’t just a question of dramatically changing my life, but also finding a reasonably unspoilt sky. Because in good old Flanders it’s become impossible to find a spot where the night’s sky is still an impressive sight. Many thousands of useless streetlights not only make the roads less secure, but also make life for us astronomists quite impossible. Here, in the Italian mountains at an altitude of almost 800m, however, the sky is still reasonably pure and observing under these conditions is a real joy. So in that respect I consider myself very fortunate.

In any case, I hope that my drawings show you how many beautiful things there are to see up there and perhaps even incite you to take up astronomy too. The advantage of these drawings is that they show you as well as possible what you can truly expect to see in a (fairly large) telescope, whereas most people whose only references are the incredible astronomy photos often remain disappointed when they only see a faint, greyish blob in stead of a spectacular nebula in thousands of colours. It’s a question of perspective. These photos have been made with many hours of exposure time and a lot of skill in rendering them perfect. Our eye can never compete with a camera, not even with a big telescope at our disposition. But once one realises this, the shear joy of seeing something with your own eyes, so “real” that you could almost touch it, makes the visual experience unsurpassable. Well, to me anyway. So please, enjoy my drawings and perhaps we’ll see each other here in Italy under a starry sky.

My Telescope

I started with a small 60mm refractor, which kept me happy for about twenty years. It was the perfect instrument to learn about the sky and I dare say that I used it up to its very limits. Then, as often happens, I got a severe stroke of what astronomers call “aperture fever”. The larger the lens or mirror of a telescope, the more you can see. And I wanted to see a lot more. So I bought an 8″ Schmidt-Cassegrain, the dream of my youth. But then I realised that what used the be the nec plus ultra of the amateur astronomer in the eighties, had since many years been surpassed by a new phenomenon: the Dobsonian telescope. Its concept is very simple: it’s a Newtonian (mirror) telescope made out of wood which lacks all of the electronic toys that all of the other modern telescopes have, such as an automatic object search and automatic tracking. But… the Dobsonian offers an aperture size which you could only dream of previously at a very affordable price.  I bought a 14,5″ Dobson and it felt like opening my eyes for the very first time. That’s how impressed I was… in the beginning. I hardly dare admit it, but I still wasn’t satisfied. So eventually I built my own 18″ Dobson.

This is most of the material I used. Doesn’t really look like a telescope, does it? :-)

 

 

 

But slowly, putting the pieces together, the structure emerges.

 

 

 

 

This is the mirror box, with the mirror support cell in place. Behind the cell I’ve installed two large cooling fans because it’s vital to keep a telescope mirror at ambient temperature to avoid unnecessary turbulence. The larger the mirror, the more important this becomes.

 

A couple of layers of paint…

 

 

 

 

 

…and DONE!

 

 

 

 

Here’s a view of my treasure: the high-quality 18″ Galaxy Optics mirror. It’s the “eye” of the telescope and it’s capable of capturing about 5.300 times more light than the human eye. or in other words, with this mirror you can see objects in the sky which are 5.300 times fainter than what you can see with the naked eye. Because contrary to what is generally believed this is the main task of a telescope: capturing as much light as possible. Most people think that a telescope has to magnify as much as possible and that’s it. But that’s just a myth because a lot of objects are actually quite large and don’t require a lot of magnification at all. It’s just that they’re so faint that the naked eye can’t see them. Then again, the larger the optics, the more you can zoom in on the object before the image becomes too dim.

And finally…  the telescope in its new, Italian environment, proudly standing in front of the shed I specifically built for it:

After all of these years of observing, I got tired of doing it with one eye only. I find it tiresome having to close one eye all of the time and feel that it doesn’t let you see all there is to see. There are many binoviewers on the market, which allow you to observe with both eyes. But unfortunately most of them make you lose a lot of light and the image becomes a lot dimmer than with one-eyed viewing. Therefore I invested in the 2″ Siebert VP Echelon, which has an aperture unmatched by any other brand and for the first time I believe that there doesn’t have to be any penalty for wanting to observe with both eyes.

The e-book about deep-sky sketching

For everyone who wants to start making astronomical sketches or improve his or her current observing, drawing and processing skills I hereby offer you my e-book about the subject. It’s a very comprehensive work in which I explain every detail about observing and drawing  techniques and all of my little secrets. It also contains my entire portfolio, not just my better sketches, because this book is not about showing off. It’s about teaching you the skills to make drawings just a nice, or possibly even a lot nicer. Since you always learn from your mistakes, well… hopefully, there’s no better way for me to teach you then showing you my mistakes and how you should proceed in order to avoid them.

The book contains four major parts:

1. Observing and Sketching

A thorough guide about how to observe and how to create a sketch which is as close as possible to what you actually saw through the eyepiece. It’s not as easy as just putting dots on a sheet of paper. If you want to create a drawing in which positions and brightnesses of the stars and objects are as close as possible to reality, you need to master a couple of techniques first.

2. Basic Elaboration on the PC

Here I explain how to transfer your sketch on the PC and the basic techniques you need to transform a raw sketch into a beautiful image.

3. Advanced Elaboration on the PC

Once you’ve got the basics right, it’s time to move on and master those little secrets which transform a basic computer image into something which comes very close to the eyepiece experience.

4. Portfolio

A list of all of my drawings with comments about what’s good or bad about them and how to make them better.

 

And all this for only €7,99!!!



Astronomical holidays

My wife runs a wonderful B&B which offers a comfy bed and sumptuous breakfast to all astronomy lovers. So why not combine your passion for the stars with an unforgettable holiday in the Emilian Apennines? Imagine… a wonderful SQM21+ sky… an 18″ telescope at your disposal… and all this combined with a 5-star accomodation!

For more information and pictures, please visit the B&B La Stella website or the B&B La Stella Facebook page.

We’d be delighted to have you as our guest!