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Even as a boy, astrophotographer was always focused on infinity

Even as a boy, astrophotographer was always focused on infinity

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The Veil Nebula is 2,500 light-years away. The star that created these ribbons of gas exploded 7,000 years ago.

Amateur astronomers have traveled recently from Estonia and New Zealand to the Mount Lemmon SkyCenter to learn camera tricks from Adam Block.

A recent photo of colliding galaxies, taken by Block from the 24-inch telescope at the mountaintop observatory, was chosen by NASA as its astronomy photo of the day.

It is the 47th time that has happened.

Block, who runs the increasingly popular public viewing programs at the University of Arizona's big eye on our closest Sky Island, has been snapping photos of the cosmos since his undergraduate days at Steward Observatory, when he was operator of the on-campus telescope.

"Snapping" is probably not the best description of what Block does. The images that NASA salutes and that Block has had published in a variety of books and magazines, including National Geographic, Astronomy and Sky & Telescope, are computer compilations of multiple 10- to 15-minute exposures of the same piece of sky, taken over five to seven hours.

Putting those exposures together is an art, he said.

"Part of the issue is that these cameras record more information than you display on your monitor. There are choices."

The final image, which takes another few hours of computer time, is "very true, especially as to color information," Block said.

"The end result shows colors that, if our eyes were as sensitive as the camera and if we could expose for as long, that would be the picture."

Block, 37, began looking at the skies as a toddler in Rhode Island and became infatuated with them when his family moved to an Atlanta suburb and bought him a telescope.

He doesn't remember, but his mother has told him that he decided early on that he wanted to go to Arizona and be an astronomer.

"In the (astronomy) magazines, in all the captions … it said 'University of Arizona.' She tells me that, at age 6 or 7, I pointed to one of those pictures and said I wanted to be an astronomer and that's where I wanted to go."

When he arrived in Tucson to attend college, he wasn't disappointed, he said.

At the UA, Block studied astronomy and physics, ran the campus station telescope, took his first photos of the sky and developed an aptitude and a love for interpreting science.

After graduation, he was hired by the National Optical Astronomy Observatory to run its public program on Kitt Peak, which he did for nine years.

In July 2007, he was hired to run the Mount Lemmon SkyCenter and its variety of programs from summer camps to overnight astronomy experiences.

Contact reporter Tom Beal at or 573-4158.

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For a full list of programs at Mount Lemmon SkyCenter, go to

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