(January 7, 2021) It was seven days past the full moon, and astrophotographer Prathamesh Jaju from Pune, telescope and planetary camera in hand, was on his terrace. There with utmost concentration, he captured the last quarter moon on an ordinary night in May 2021.
It took me almost four-and-a-half hours to capture 38 videos of the entire surface of the moon using a panoramic photography technique. Each video consists of 2,000 frames that make a single picture.”
The photo taking shape in those four hours made this amateur astrophotographer an instant internet sensation. Taking one of the clearest and most detailed images of the Moon is no mean feat. The then 16-year-old did it and it went viral with 69,734 likes till date. Prathamesh even got approval from a Nasa scientist for the sensational click. Today, he has 101k Instagram followers, and counting.
The photo that went viral
“It took me almost four-and-a-half hours to capture 38 videos of the entire surface of the moon using a panoramic photography technique. Each video consists of 2,000 frames that make a single picture. I had to stack 38 images together to get that one perfect shot. It took me over 40 hours to process over 50,000 images which almost killed my laptop,” laughs Prathamesh, quite the pro.
Overnight, this internet star could barely believe the interest it generated worldwide. “I woke up to the news of the picture being circulated almost everywhere. My friends kept sending me newspaper articles that carried the photo. It was quite mind-blowing to see my photo going viral, and people appreciating it,” Prathamesh reveals to Global Indian.
The photo got a huge thumbs up from netizens, including a scientist from NASA too. “Apart from Instagram, I had also posted the picture on Reddit and got a really good response. A scientist from NASA, who was a part of the Apollo Mission, saw the picture and appreciated it for its clarity. It was quite a moment for me,” adds the astrophotographer, who beautifully captured the craters and mineral deposits on the lunar surface.
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A space odyssey
Panvel-born Jaju’s fascination for outer space had its seed in the pop-culture phenomenon called Star Wars. It was George Lucas’ world of space adventures that exposed a very young Prathamesh to the outer world, and from then, there was no turning back. “Star Wars and Star Trek were my introduction to outer space as a child, and it intrigued me. I was keen to know and learn more,” says Prathamesh.
In his quest to get closer to his dream, the then 11-year-old Prathamesh found himself on the grounds of IUCAA (The Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics) in Pune, ready for a night of star-gazing. “Each year on National Science Day, IUCAA organises science-related activities for people in Pune. I found it to be the perfect opportunity to learn about stars and planets,” reveals the amateur astrophotographer.
His first real tryst with the stars that night opened up a plethora of opportunities for as he was introduced to Jyotirvidya Parisanstha, the oldest association of amateur astronomers in India. “At IUCAA, I met members of Jyotirvidya Parisanstha (JVP), and that’s when my journey into astrophotography and astronomy started,” recalls the SP Junior College student.
In 2017, Prathamesh joined JVP as a volunteer to quench his thirst for knowledge about astronomy. “JVP was started in 1944 by some people from Pune to spread the knowledge of astronomy in public. It’s an NGO run by volunteers with an interest in astronomy,” says Jaju, whose association with JVP is five years old. “It was here that I learnt the basics of astronomy, how to use a telescope, and developed an interest in astrophotography,” adds the 17-year-old.
The hobby soon developed into a passion when his uncle gifted him a telescope in 2019. “I have set up the telescope on my terrace and I often watch the stars and planets sitting in the comfort of my home,” adds Prathamesh, who has found a great support system in his parents. If his mother often accompanies him on star-gazing, he takes advice from his businessman father while processing images.
A picture perfect glance
Those picture-perfect images of the moon and planets are a detailed study. “I have a planetary and lunar imaging camera ZWO462, which is more like a webcam and can shoot up to 10,000-15,000 frames in a minute video without blurring or pixelating the images. I use it to capture a particular star, planet or moon. But for deep sky objects like nebulae or star clusters, I use a DSLR Canon 1300D that I have modified and attach to the telescope,” says Prathamesh.
From stunning photos of Nebulae to Jupiter to Saturn to the Moon and Milky Way, his Instagram page is nothing short of a window into outer space. “I learnt the basics of astrophotography from senior volunteers at JVP, and rest from YouTube tutorials,” says the boy who wants to pursue a career in astronomy and astrophysics.
Patience, he says, is key to capturing these phenomenal pictures. “I think one of the biggest challenges for any astrophotographer is clouds or bad weather. At times, I have to wait for hours before clicking that one good picture,” says the athlete who has participated in the long jump nationals.
Has his life has changed after the viral image, Jaju reveals, “Now, I am more conscious of what I click, and the content I post on social media as people are waiting for my photos.”
But it’s his love for sky gazing that brings him back to his telescope every few days. “Looking at the space, it makes me realise that I am just a speck of dust in the Universe. The objects that I click are light years away from us. Looking at them feels like I am time travelling. My telescope and cameras act as a time machine for me. It is so surreal and exciting to have the experience of watching them,” signs off Jaju who plans to capture more galaxies and nebulae the next.
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