Sunday, February 01 2004 @ 01:30 pm EST
Contributed by: bobmoody
Mike Holloway is an amateur astronomer and an avid astrophotographer who is especially interested in imaging comets. Mike loves comets. But by his own admission, he's not sure why that is. "There's just something about comets that I love to photograph," says Mike, "but I'm really not sure why. I'm just driven to do it."
Mike takes his comet photography VERY seriously. From his home and private observatory about 12 miles north of Van Buren, Arkansas, Mike spends his clear evenings at his computer monitor acquiring his images with a 4" Takahashi refractor telescope, which is piggy-back mounted on a Meade 10" f/6.3 SCT on a fork mount. He uses an SBIG cooled CCD camera to gather the light for an image and then downloads the image to his computer where he manipulates the image with Photoshop 7 to bring out fine detail in whatever comet or deep-sky object happens to hold his interest. His images in our members astrophotos section testify to his desire for perfection in his work.
I recently had an opportunity to visit Mike and watch as an image of comet C/2002 T7 was taken automatically by his fully computerized system and appeared on the screen of his monitor less than two minutes after the image began. This is a marvel to me since I've only seen astrophotography done with older 35mm film techniques. That technique of taking a photo of this comet would have required at least a 30 to 40 minute meticulously guided exposure. Mike then would have had to develop the film negatives before we ever saw the image, and only then would we have known if everything had gone according to plan. This new way of imaging the sky is simply fantastic, and within the reach of most amateur astronomers today.
Mike's equipment is housed in a 12' by 20' building which utilizes a 6' diameter fiberglass dome made by "Home-Dome". While he has planned on eventually making the entire system "hands-off" and totally remotely controlled from behind a dividing wall within the observatory building, Mike told me that he's now wondering whether he'll ever get around to this or not. "I find that I really enjoy just being able to sit here beside the scope and look out at the sky while I'm taking an image." I'll admit that I'd enjoy that myself, but it might not take too many bitter cold winter nights before I'd change my mind. With the computerization of every aspect of imaging and controlling a telescope remotely now common, Mike Holloway has what the majority of amateur astronomers can only dream about.
But what is it about comets that Mike finds so fascinating? Lots of deep-sky objects hold more allure than comets to most amateurs, and the beautiful colors of the nebulae and galaxies are exquisite when caught and processed with a setup like Mike's. But those objects are far, far away in the distant reaches of the universe. Comets, on the other hand, are of this solar system. They aren't interstellar objects, they are connected to us, to our solar system. When a new comet is seen for the first time like C/2002 T7, it holds within it's frozen heart the same primordial elements that made up the solar nebula that our Sun and planets were formed from. Maybe that's why Mike likes comets so much. In a way, comets are like long lost friends or distant relatives, and its that kinship that stirs the soul of Mike Holloway.