BYU’s West Mountain Observatory is leaving millions of observers around the world starry-eyed.
In the fall of 2010, astronomers at the observatory—located near Payson, Utah, about an hour from campus—captured images of NGC 891. This spiral galaxy is 100,000 light-years in diameter. Dr. Robert Gendler, a medical doctor from Connecticut, then combined the details of these astronomical images with additional data obtained from the 8.2-meter Subaru Telescope on Mauna Kea, Hawai’i and the Hubble Space Telescope.
The combined image was featured on May 26, 2012 as NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) online at this link. This was the first picture APOD has published from Dr. Michael Joner and Dr. C. David Laney of the Department of Physics and Astronomy.
“It is a huge honor to be selected to have an APOD,” Joner said. “Only the very finest images get posted and there are lots of images contributed that do not ever make an APOD.”
The APOD site is viewed daily worldwide by astrophysics enthusiasts interested in the latest photographs and events.
The mosaic picture reveals an extremely clear and detailed image of the dust-filled galaxy. According to the APOD website, the dust probably came from supernovae explosions or intense periods of star-formation activity.
“For our publicity images such as this one, we have collaborated with Dr. Robert Gendler, an amateur astronomer who is one of the most well known image processing specialists in the world,” Joner said. “He [Gendler] is well known for combining data from several telescopes to make composite images and for assembling large format mosaics that cover extended areas in the sky.”
The Department of Physics and Astronomy constructed the West Mountain Observatory in 1981. Its mountaintop location provides pristine astronomical views that are captured nightly by the astronomy students and professors who run the observatory. Other images obtained from West Mountain Observatory are made publicly available online here.