SINGAPORE (The Straits Times/Asia News Network): A photograph of Jupiter that was shot from the terrace of a Kembangan flat has clinched second place in an international space photography competition.
Captured through the lens of Marco Lorenzi’s 2m-tall homemade telescope, the picture of the largest planet in the solar system was internationally recognised in the Planets, Comets and Asteroids category of the Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2023 competition. There were 11 categories in total.
Astronomy Photographer of the Year is an annual competition organised by the Royal Museum of Greenwich in the United Kingdom and, according to its website, features the world’s greatest space photography. This year is its 15th edition.
Lorenzi, 53, said that the runner-up award was extremely meaningful to him, as the competition received a total of some 4,000 images this year.
“I am very happy about this achievement, as it affirms that all the time and effort I dedicated to improving my craft was well spent,” said the Italian, who has pursued astronomy since he was a teenager.
Lorenzi’s childhood in a small town in northeastern Italy ignited in him a deep fascination with the vast sky, where he often found himself spending countless evenings entranced by the shimmer of distant stars.
His parents fanned his passion by buying him his first telescope and refractor at age 10. At 14, he remembered using his father’s film camera, equipped with a tripod and a wide-angle lens, to capture a snapshot of the night sky.
“I took my first picture then, and I never stopped,” said Lorenzi.
Lorenzi, who is the Asia-Pacific marketing manager of an industrial equipment supplier, has been living in Asia for the last 20 years, and Singapore for the last seven.
The heavy light pollution that comes with living in a city has proved quite challenging for his pursuit of the stars, he said, but he has also found some advantages of stargazing in Singapore.
For one thing, he said, it is easy to see the planets in Singapore, as the winds reaching the island have been travelling undisturbed over the sea and move smoothly without any turbulence.
“Thanks to Singapore’s unique location on the equator, it is excellent for high-resolution imaging as we do not have any strong air currents to disturb the stability of the atmosphere,” he added.
Also, Lorenzi said that the planets are always transiting quite high in the sky over Singapore, which allows him a better view of them compared to if they were near the horizon and their light would be blocked by air layers of the Earth’s atmosphere.
When Lorenzi captured the image, it was when Jupiter was transiting straight overhead, which provided him a “short moment of perfect seeing”.
“Seeing” describes the turbulence of the sky, and how steady it is.
“At the time of the shot, the sky was scattered with clouds, as often is in Singapore, so I just managed to catch the moment that Jupiter was visible in between the clouds,” he said.
Lorenzi also lauded his homemade telescope, which allowed him to capture the image.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, he designed and built his own telescope, that would fit nicely on the terrace just outside his bedroom, which has a clear view of the night sky.
He built a reflecting telescope, or a Newtonian telescope, which is known for its simplicity and cost-effectiveness and consists of a concave mirror which collects the light and reflects it back to a focal point.
At the focal point, a small, flat mirror that is placed at an angle bends the light to the side where an observer can put an eyepiece for visual observation or a camera for imaging, Mr Lorenzi explained.
The telescope was built using both imported parts and locally manufactured ones, with the supporting mount made of stainless steel parts that were laser-cut and assembled in Singapore.
Lorenzi’s telescope has a primary mirror that spans 535mm in diameter. In comparison, the Science Centre Observatory’s main telescope is a 400mm reflector.
“Using a powerful telescope was an important goal of mine, as the planets look like very tiny disks from Earth,” he said, adding that he wanted to reveal many fine details of the planets’ atmosphere.
Other than Singapore, Lorenzi also takes photographs of gas and dust clouds – or nebula – and other galaxies from multiple observatories in Australia and Chile, which he runs remotely from Singapore.
Throughout his years pursuing astrophotography, Lorenzi’s images have been published in astronomy magazines and books around the world, and selected by Nasa as the astrophoto image of the day on its website, among many other notable achievements.
But the true reward for Lorenzi is knowing that his images have the power to inspire others.
He said: “If this encourages some kids out there to delve deeper into the magic of the cosmos and perhaps become the astronomer of tomorrow, then, that would be my true reward.
“Even within the cityscape of Singapore, the sky is a treasure trove of jewels awaiting exploration.”