Time Travel is Simple. Just look up.
What the heck is an Astropotamus?
Greetings, fellow time travelers! I am an amateur Time Traveler and astrophotographer – an Astropotamus! I’ll be your friendly guide to the mysteries of the universe. Together, we’re going to take a thrilling journey through the cosmos, where looking up at the night sky is like peering back in time. We’ll learn about how light works and why it can take so long for to reach your eyes. We’ll explore stars, planets, distant galaxies, nebulae, and more, using the magic of astrophotography.
Along the way, we’ll learn about Time Machines and how they work to help us capture these celestial wonders as snapshots in time. Perhaps, most importantly, I’ll share with you my own journey, starting with getting started in this hobby to wherever I may end up. That’s right – I’m also learning, just like you!
Join me as we take off on this incredible voyage together, and you can be a time traveling Astropotamus, just like me!
What’s a Time Machine?
When I say “Time Machine,” it conjures up images of a fantastic, sparking, eerily smoking device with green lights and a fantastic purplish glow that allows you move back and forth through time without any apparent physical harm to your body. That is not what Potamuses mean when we say “Time Machine.”
The simplest Time Machine is your eye. When you look at something, you’re seeing the light reflected off of (or emitted by) that object. Light travels fast but not infinitely fast. So if that object is really far away, then that light might have taken seconds, hours, or even millions of years to reach your eye. In essence, you’re looking back in time and seeing the object as it was when that light started its journey to your eye.
More complicated Time Machines exist as well, but don’t worry – you probably already have some. A pair of binoculars makes an excellent Time Machine! The big front lens on a “pair of ‘nocs” takes in much more light than your naked eye does – sometimes up to 8-10 times as much light! This makes things much brighter. Plus the smaller lens at the back of the ‘nocs helps focus that light so the image appears both brighter and bigger when the light finally reaches your eyes. A good pair of binoculars is cheap, easy to move around, and you can use it for hours – the perfect Time Machine!
What is Time Travel?
Time travel is both incredibly simple and very complex. The simple part is to merely look up. This is easiest at night when the sun isn’t out, but believe it or not, with proper planning (and precautions) you can sometimes see other planets and even stars and satellites during the day! Since light can only travel at the speed of light (approximately 300,000 kilometers per second; 186,000 miles per second; 671 million miles per hour) the light that you see from something far way may have taken a long time to reach your eyes. Light coming from the moon shows us the surface of the moon as it was about 1.28 seconds ago. That’s how long it takes a photon from the sun to bounce off the moon and hit our eyes. But that photon from the Sun took more than eight minutes to travel from the Sun to the Moon in the first place, so when we look at the Sun or the Moon, or anything else in the sky, we are peering into the past. In essence, we become Time Travelers!
It’s also sort of easy to look deeper into the past. While there are lots of objects that you can with the naked eye, with a pair of binoculars you can see many, many more. They are also brighter and bigger in binoculars than they are with just your eye. Turn towards M31 (the Andromeda Galaxy), and you’ve just time traveled 2,500,000 years into the past. That’s how long it takes light from the stars of M31 to reach Earth.
Of course, an Astropotamus wants to be able to look very deep into the past and be able to photograph it, which requires something more complex than binoculars. It takes a Time Machine. Time Machines work like (and look like) telescopes, which operate by gathering, bending, and folding light so that light that travels a long way can be made brighter and bigger than just what the eye sees.
In general terms, a Time Machine gathers a lot of light and bends it so it focuses onto a small area. This makes the image at that point very bright with lots of detail. Sort of like having a 100 megapixel camera instead of a 10 megapixel one. The Time Machine then bends the light again so that spreads this focused light out, making it bigger. This is similar to why a 100MP image can be zoomed in or blown up much more than a 10MP image can – there’s more information in the source, so you can magnify smaller portions of it more easily and still have it look good.
The end result is a lot of magnification and a (usually) bright image so that a camera can be put at the end and an image captured. With proper exposure, a little luck, some practice, and some post-processing on the computer, the camera can take long exposures that gather even very faint light that your eye can’t see. This lets the camera capture images from very far away or from very dim objects, which lets an Astropotamus share their time travels with the rest of the world by posting the images online!
Typing “astrophotography” gets tiring after a while, so most Astropotamuses abbreviate it and just write “AP” instead. AP is the art of using a camera attached to a Time Machine to take pictures of things in the night sky. Sometimes, similar techniques are used to take pictures in the daytime, with proper filters and protection for your eyes.
This web site is all about one Astropotamus traveling through time and learning how to use cameras and Time Machines to capture and record memories of what the universe looked like in the past. I will share with you how I got to where I am, why I made the choices I did, what I did right – and what I did wrong.
Along the way, I hope you’ll be excited by what’s in the Cosmos and pick up your own Time Machine, maybe a camera, and start doing some AP of your own.
Join me as we take off on this incredible voyage together, and become a time traveling Astropotamus, like me!