University of Hawaii Instutute for Astronomy

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Astrophotography from Mauna Kea

Sco-Ophiucus complexDuring most of the 20th century astronomers used photography to record their images, but in the 1980s there was a dramatic switch to electronic cameras. Nowadays, none of the observatories on the summit of Mauna Kea use traditional photography to record their data.

Astrophotography is not entirely dead, however. Good astrophotography can still be achieved under a very dark sky such as that of Mauna Kea. University of Hawaii graduate student Wei-Hao Wang sometimes likes to take a break from observing distant galaxies at the JCMT and SUBARU telescopes and set up his cameras to record the brilliance of the night sky from the summit of Mauna Kea..

The crucial advantage that Wang's cameras possess over the giant telescopes is their very wide field of view. Even the largest digital cameras, such as those being built for Hawaii's Pan-STARRS project are only able to focus on patches of sky a few degrees across. Wang's photographs, on the other hand, can be tens of degrees wide, showing the sky much as it would appear to the naked eye, if our eyes were more sensitive.

Wang uses a large-format Pentax 67 camera, with a variety of lenses and a 4-inch telescope. His exposures typically last about an hour, during which time he must guide the camera using a 2-inch telescope mounted to the side of it. After developing the images he scans them into a computer and makes final corrections to the images digitally.

For samples of Wang's wide angle photographs from Mauna Kea see

For more images and technical information see


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