Break-ception with Astrophotography

I think with all the breaks we’ve been having and have had so far in the month of November, we might as well just take the whole month off right? Not quite.

With the semester nearing its end, the classes, assignments, tests, and projects are certainly upping their level of difficulty. In addition to school, juggling three jobs has also been quite difficult. Time management is key and I’m still working on it. Hopefully Thanksgiving break will give me some time to catch up with all my classes since things have been getting a bit cluttered in my schedule.


Day & Age – The Killers



Thankfully, the breaks we’ve had so far allowed me the opportunity to travel deep into the Floridian wilderness for some stellar astrophotography! Ocala National Forest is definitely one of my new favorite places in Florida just because of how beautiful it is at night. I mean, sure you have to drive like one hour and thirty minutes out of your way to get there, but you’re greeted by breath-taking views of our vast galaxy.


Stars and constellations make themselves known while the Milky Way comes out of hiding where you can see it with the naked-eye: I almost broke down and cried because of how beautiful it was. Because I was so far away from civilization, I had to be careful with my surroundings…which can be hard to do as you’re admiring the scenery around you.



That’s not my truck.

I recommend traveling with a few friends, bring some snacks, and the proper photography gear if you decide on traveling to the vast expanse of Ocala National Forest. Keep checking the weather days in advance to make sure the weather will be clear and not cloudy. The first time I went, I drove so far that I somehow drove past the clear weather and found myself surrounded by fog: Not cool.


Shutter Speed: 30 seconds, Aperture: f/2.8, ISO 2500 & Focal Length: 16mm

In the realm of photography, a camera that allows for manual control and a tripod are pretty much what you need shoot photos with. In your settings, try the following exposure settings:

  • Shutter Speed: Between 20-30 seconds.There’s a thing called the “500/600 Rule” which basically involves taking either 500 or 600 and dividing it by your focal length, which is how wide you’re currently shooting (i.e. 16mm). The resulting number is the shutter speed you need to shoot at/below to stop the stars from “moving/streaking” in your image.
  • Aperture: Try to open up your aperture to its widest setting. Most lenses can do f/3.5, while other lenses can do f/2.8. In the world of photography, 2.8 is wider than 3.5.
  • ISO: This is your sensor’s sensitivity to light. The higher the ISO, the more light it captures. Keep in mind, the higher the ISO, the more likely you are to get noise in your images. Because my 5D Mark III can handle noise fairly well, I shot at ISO 2500.


If your photos turn out too dark, try increasing your ISO. Likewise, if your photos are too bright, consider decreasing your ISO to lower the amount of noise in your photo. Most importantly, set a 2 second delay after you press the shutter button. This will allow you to take the photo without having the camera move after you’ve touched it.

With that said, go out and have fun. That’s the most important thing!

And We’re Back!

Hello, hello! After a much needed 4-5 month hiatus, we’re back! And I’m not just talking about me being back on the blogging scene, but rather everyone coming back to Embry-Riddle. So on that note, welcome back returning students and faculty, and hello to the new students and faculty getting their start at Embry-Riddle this semester!

This summer has been a jam-packed one for sure. With things ranging from collegiate visits and parades to work and traveling, Summer 2015 may have been my most productive summer to date.


Summer 2015 also marked the time where I started taking “artsy” pictures.

With victory and triumph in my veins after conquering the spring semester, I boarded my flight bound from Orlando, Florida (MCO) to Newark, New Jersey (EWR) and rode the train home once I got to New Jersey. It was probably 1AM when I finally got to my house on May 1st. Unfortunately for me, most of my friends were still in school/college. Needless to say, I did not spend May wisely and spent most of my time at home. (Whoops.) I did however, visit my high school to catch up with some teachers and friends. I even spoke to a few freshmen classes about college and how to prepare for the next 4-5 years of their lives.

Suddenly June came barreling in, and I suddenly found myself in a chaotic ballet of commitments and unexpected events. My sister’s orientation for Penn State University was during the first week of June so I had to put off working in New York City until the week after. Despite the logistics, 4-hour drive, and uncomfortable hotel beds, it was a fun time. Most importantly, my sister enjoyed the school which is what really mattered.


I guess Penn State ran out of rock climbing walls.

With Penn State’s orientation over and my sister finishing high school in 2 weeks, I went back to work in New York City. Not much has changed since I left last summer, but it was still nice to go back to work in place that was familiar to me. The atmosphere and pacing is so different from life here in Daytona Beach, and that’s the lifestyle I was accustomed to.

Sometime in the middle of July, the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team defeated Japan during the Women’s FIFA Cup and to celebrate, there was a ticker tape parade in New York City. Conveniently, my office was on Broadway and I managed to get some really nice pictures. It was my first ever ticker tape parade and it was really special considering the last one was in 2012 after the Giants won the Superbowl.




I saw people just dump entire packets of paper outside their windows. It was crazy.

Annoyingly, August rolled around signalling the end of my summer vacation a few weeks later. By that time, I finished my internship and spent my time at home preparing for the fall semester. I managed to go out and photograph a few sunrises, the Perseid Meteor Shower, and sunsets. It was nice and a fitting salute to my home state before leaving for Riddle.


I saw the Milky Way in person for the first time ever!


The last sunrise I saw in New Jersey. *sheds tear*




On my flight back to Orlando, I ran into William Stirna who was a graduate of Embry-Riddle’s class of 1994!


With things at Embry-Riddle in full swing now, nothing’s really changed since I left last spring. My classes are very interesting with SIM 200 being the most “technical” class I’ve taken to date. My professors are wonderful and they make class enjoyable, and I’m honestly glad things worked out the way they did. So, on that bombshell, thank you for reading, and I’ll talk to you all soon!


This isn’t Daytona Beach, but this was taken in Florida…that counts right?


“Oh so artsy.”

That’s a wrap, folks!

1470133_10152371397308719_2856600370498912047_nSo tomorrow is the penultimate (that means second to last in fancy talk) day of my internship at SETI.

It’s crazy how fast the time here went, and at the same time I managed to pack so many amazing things into ten short weeks. I’m pretty sure that I can say this has been the greatest experience of my life. But I’m getting ahead of myself a bit, I still have a couple weeks of adventures to write about!

Since my last entry there has been less fun stuff and much more work – not that we skimped on the fun stuff at all. Shortly after I last wrote, I had to give what’s called a Journal Club talk, where we were each assigned a published research paper and then expected to give a fifteen minute presentation to the other interns and a handful of scientists that found the time to attend. This allows for skill-building both in reading scientific journal articles and in presenting scientific work. The paper that I was assigned was titled “Time Evolution of Viscous Circumstellar Disks due to Photoevaporation by Far-Ultraviolet, Extreme-Ultraviolet, and X-ray Radiation from the Central Star”, and was written by my mentor. It provided a really good foundation for understanding my own project, because I was using a lot of the same methods/modeling techniques. All-in-all I would say it was a successful experience.

The dome of the Lick Observatory Great Refractor telescope at sunset.

The dome of the Lick Observatory Great Refractor telescope at sunset.

The next big event for us was a trip up to Lick Observatory for a tour and star party, which was way cool. We got to see the 3 meter telescope – and stood outside the dome at sunset as it rotated around… what a view! While waiting for the sun to set completely, we were given a really cool history lesson about James Lick and the observatory. He’s definitely a really fascinating dude, look him up sometime. Then once it was finally dark we went inside the dome of the Great Refractor, the original telescope built in the late nineteenth century, and each got a chance to look at a few really cool celestial objects through it. And telescope or not, the sky up there was gorgeous – we could see the Milky Way once the moon set!

Five of us were asked to participate in an interview for a documentary called Madame Mars.

Five of us were asked to participate in an interview for a documentary called Madame Mars.

After the Lick trip the rest of the week was spent by some of us frantically working to get abstracts written and submitted to AGU (The American Geophysical Union), in order to attend the Fall Meeting in December – which is one of, if not the, biggest conferences in the country. I am one of the two or three SETI interns that submitted an abstract, which is titled “An Investigation of the Streamline Geometry of Photoevaporative Winds from Planet-Forming Disks” and can be read here by anybody who is interested! Another cool thing that happened that week was that I got interviewed for a documentary called Madame Mars, which is about women scientists studying Mars… more about that project here.

Whoever thought to put an amusement park on the beach had the right idea!

Whoever thought to put an amusement park on the beach had the right idea!

A lot of work always gets done as the deadline approaches, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t find time to have fun. For our penultimate Saturday a few of us took the train/bus journey down to Santa Cruz to check out the campus of UCSC, which is gorgeous by the way. Most of us are getting to the point where we need to start picking grad schools, so it was definitely a good trip to take. Then we spent the evening at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk, which – get this – is an amusement park… on the beach! We had a blast. Sunday I slept until noon and didn’t change out of my pajamas all day – which was much needed as I hadn’t had a single day without something planned since arriving.

Taking a very expensive selfie with my fancy new camera!

Taking a very expensive selfie with my fancy new camera!

My next big piece of news is about my big purchase – I’ve acquired a Canon 60D DSLR camera that is totally awesome and with which I am in love. I wanted to treat myself to a big purchase with some of my internship money (I mean, paying off my credit card debt was fun, but who wants to just pay bills all summer? I needed a new toy!) and after throwing a few different ideas around I think I definitely made the right choice. The thing I’m most excited about is astrophotography. I’m sure you all heard about the “super moon” last week, well I got an awesome picture of it. Just from my camera on the ground, no telescope or anything. I also got a cool photo of the big dipper – you might need to click on it and view the full size photo in order to really see it.

My photo of the super moon. Gorgeous, ain't it?

My photo of the super moon. Gorgeous, ain’t it?

My first try at long-exposure astrophotography - the Big Dipper!

My first try at long-exposure astrophotography – the Big Dipper!

My dad sent me a hand-me-down telephoto lens, and it is awesome. I totally feel like a paparazzi.

My dad sent me a hand-me-down telephoto lens, and it is awesome. I totally feel like a paparazzi.

Project-wise, I spent a lot of time during my final few weeks just de-bugging my model. That thing did NOT want to cooperate. Luckily, I finally got it working last night at about 11 pm, just in time to get some results for this morning’s presentation. But I’ll talk about that later.

Took a selfie with Echosmith!

Took a selfie with Echosmith!









Last weekend was the last one before I fly back out to Florida in a few days, so I sought to make it epic. First off, there was no way I was going a whole summer without a concert – and by a stroke of luck, Echosmith was playing a free show in San Jose last Saturday! How cool is that? The best part about a free show is that I could actually take photos with my camera – concert venues tend not to allow DSLRs, which is a bummer, because I love photographing concerts. Then Sunday I spent all day at the San Francisco Zoo! I love the zoo. And I love taking pictures of animals, which is exactly what I did. My final photo count for the day was 1063 RAW photos, at about 22 MB each – needless to say my memory card was plenty full. I got some AMAZING shots, which you can feel free to peruse here. I’m still working on processing most of them, but I have a good number of great shots done and online already, and I’ll be adding more to that album as I get around to it. And for those of you too lazy to click the link, here are a few below…

1471911_10152370181498719_8458714252087793851_n 10568906_10152370180948719_1664403270343568912_n 10626553_10152370182388719_4671954672780335049_n

A few of us at our last Indian Lunch Buffet outing... :'(

A few of us at our last Indian Lunch Buffet outing… :'(

As the weeks started to wind down there have been a lot of “lasts”. We had our last lunch outing to the awesome Indian lunch buffet that is five minutes from the Institute. Tonight I went to my last yoga class of the summer (oh yeah, I’ve been doing yoga. It’s neat.) And Friday is our last day. It’s very surreal, and also very bittersweet. This week the work is (in theory) done, and it’s been mostly presentations every day. Yesterday we had to do what are called “Lightning Talks”, in which each student has 3 minutes and 3 slides to get up and talk about their project. These talks were open to the public as part of SETI’s colloquium series, and also filmed and put on their YouTube channel here. Mine starts around 7:35, if you’re interested in watching.

Suited up and ready to give a talk!

Suited up and ready to give a talk!

In addition to the lightning talks, we each have to give a fifteen minute presentation of our project in much more detail. I gave mine this morning and I think it went pretty well, but I don’t have a video of that one for you (darn, right?) Giving talks like that is nerve-wracking, but there’s something I do enjoy about getting all dressed up in my snazzy suit and talking about smart sciencey junk.

I’m not going to talk much about the details of my project right now, I’ll save that for when I have it all done and ready to show at AGU – and I’ll have a poster to link as well! But to give a basic overview (this information is all in the lightning talk video linked above), I worked on modeling circumstellar disks, which are the regions around young stars that planets form. Basically, the gas in these disks gets heated by the star and blows outward due to pressure changes from the temperature increase – fluid mechanics knowledge came in handy. This causes the disk to disperse after a few million years, which is why you don’t hear about new planets forming in our solar system nowadays: the disk is gone. My project specifically dealt with modeling the flow of these winds and generating a lot of plots using different cases, in order to determine how the geometry of the wind affects the disk. Simple, right? 😉

Selfie with the one and only Dr. Jill Tarter, who is both an amazing scientist and an amazing person, and I'm so fortunate to have gotten to meet her.

Selfie with the one and only Dr. Jill Tarter, who I’m so fortunate to have gotten to meet.

All in all, I’d just like to wrap up this entry by saying again what an amazing summer I’ve had interning at the SETI Institute, and I’d give my left kidney if I could participate in the program a second time. I’ve learned so much about my field and my interests, I’ve gotten career guidance, seen some amazing sights, lived in a part of a country that’s as close to paradise as I’ve ever seen (I really hope to move back here one day!) and, most importantly, I’ve met some really awesome people, both in the scientists at SETI and the other students. So I just want to say, for anyone relevant who may be reading this, how truly grateful I am to have had this opportunity to have done everything I’ve done, learned everything I’ve learned, and met everyone I’ve met.

I want to close out this entry by directing you to Dr. Tarter’s TEDtalk here. I hope you all understand how awesome and important SETI really is as a scientific endeavor, and that it’s not a bunch of crazy people with foil hats looking for aliens. 🙂

P.S. No, we didn’t find any aliens during my internship. 🙁