Amateur astronomy thrives on social media, even in Boston bathed in light pollution

“Dude, do you wanna see a supah nova?” “

Photo provided

On a clear day Matt Schricker heads to his back deck in Weymouth and gets to work. It carries 170 pounds of equipment with it, then directs it to the sky directly above the Boston skyline.

There are few stars visible to the naked eye from this point of view. Anyone who lives under the light-drenched Boston skyline knows that we’re not exactly star-drenched. Quite the contrary, in fact: Light pollution maps show that everything inside Route 128 is an 8 or 9 on the brightness of the night sky measuring the Bortle scale, as high as it can get. But Schricker is an old man now. He sets up his telescopes and advanced lenses, attaches them to a DSLR camera and iPad, and lets the photos expose for up to two full minutes at a time.

The results, which he publishes on social media to a small but growing audience under the name “Bostronomy”, speak for themselves.

@bostronomy Taking photos of a galaxy using anti-pollution filters is awesome. ## astrophotography ## space ## space photography ## photomagic ♬ Sweet Emotion – Aerosmith

After turning on his equipment for the first time last summer and pointing it at Orion for about 10 seconds, he was amazed at the results he produced. “What appeared on the LCD screen was amazing. And I was like, ‘I can do this from my garden!’ And from there I just got hooked. It was the same with his two daughters, who join him on the deck before bedtime and laugh at the sight of ultra-high resolution images of stars, the moon and planets appearing on their father’s screens.

Schricker says he developed a taste for astronomy as a child, when his uncle took him to the Science Museum planetarium and his parents bought him a rudimentary telescope. However, he didn’t fully immerse himself in that passion until 2020, when a combination of containment blues and the arrival of a rare comet called NEOWISE that crossed the sky that summer inspired him to go big and… stay home.

Schricker is one of many amateur astronomers to embrace this dazzling hobby over the past two years, as homebound astronomers sought to use their spare time to peer deeply into the universe. Access has become easier, as the cost of equipment (still quite expensive) has become more reasonable and technology has made the complex process of capturing images of stars easier. Where astronomers once had to hand-trace the locations of objects of interest in the sky and then guide telescope objectives as they tracked the constantly moving sky long enough for prolonged exposures, computer programs can now do a lot of heavy work. Plus, there are special lenses readily available to help block out that pesky city light.


Photo of the Andromeda Galaxy provided by Matt Schricker.

The community of local astrophotographers he joined last year has found an enthusiastic audience online, including me. I first came across Schricker’s work on TikTok, where the app is chock-full of videos of average Joes proudly sharing images of galaxies millions of light years away, many of which were taken in backyards in dense urban environments. Some of the most popular can rack up millions of views. Schricker isn’t the only one operating in the Boston area either: Nico Carver of Somerville has gained some 88,000 subscribers on his YouTube “Nebula Photos” after posting instructional videos for fellow hobbyists and thousands of users. other followers on Instagram, where he shares his own stunning photos of galactic beauties.

To differentiate himself, Schricker plays his Boston accent, dotting clips of his gear and big reveal of photographic wonders with lines like “Dude, do you wanna see a supah novah?” He likes to end a lot of them with this signature, “Alright, calm down, mate.”

A thick Boston accent is a proven business card to catch the eye in all kinds of media, and the evidence for its success in various applications continues to accumulate. The rise of Boston’s hugely popular Be a Man on TikTok is a prime example, as is the Gloucester sage who made a name for himself on Instagram by heckling boaters on a local channel.

“I don’t really have a super thick Boston accent, but people seem to be having fun, so I’m happy to get the message across with that jovial touch,” he tells me. “I think a lot of people are put off by the pretentious nature in which a lot of these messages about scientific things are sort of delivered, and I don’t understand why that has to be so.”

@ bostronomy I took a photo of the Andromeda galaxy from my back deck. ## rules of kid astrophotography! ## astronomy ## space ## photography ## backyardvibes ♬ Thunderstruck – AC / DC

Her advice for anyone in Boston who would like to try astrophotography? You don’t need to spend a lot of money on high-end equipment. He says you’d be amazed at what part of the universe you can see if you connect a DSLR camera to a basic telescope and expose it to seconds of light. Moreover, if you really want to taste the full firepower of the night sky, head to darker areas spread around New England, especially Baxter State Park in Maine, which in some areas is little nearly as dark as anywhere on Earth.

Schricker acknowledges that all those hours of aiming his gear at unfathomable and distant star clusters have a way of making a person feel small enough, if not insignificant. He is not the first and will not be the last astronomer to experience this sensation. But he kisses her. Deep space has a way of putting all of our earthly problems into perspective – like, say, the global pandemic that drove him into this hobby in the first place.

“I get a lot of people telling me that they look at my photos and it gives them like an existential crisis. But for me, it’s actually helpful to remember that I’m just not that important, that you’re just a spot on a speck of dust, ”he said, channeling Carl Sagan, who called the Earth “a speck of dust suspended in a ray of sunlight. He continues, “We’re so worried about all of these things, we have all of these anxieties, and it’s like you have to stop and remind yourself that you are really small and really precious.”

In other words, to quote another aspiring sky philosopher: Take it easy, mate.

bostronomy b

Photo of the Heart and Soul Nebulae provided by Matt Schricker.

About Johnnie Gross

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