HP Corvallis MakerSpace grand opening: Tom Carrico on making stellar photographs

Tom Carrico made his own camera telescope.By Warren Volkmann, Editor
HP Developers' Portal

When Tom Carrico clipped on his first HP badge in California in 1979, he could never have guessed that his college internship would turn into a career that would span five decades and last well into the 21st century.

Tom has been making and inventing inside HP for almost half of the company’s existence. He finished up on the HP Corvallis site in Oregon, where he managed cloud-based eOperations. He retired in 2015 to pursue his “wonderful hobby” – astrophotography.

Tom returned to the Corvallis site for the Day 1 grand opening of the MakerSpace. He stepped up onto the soapbox stage to confirm that astrophotography still requires a maker mentality and do-it-yourself determination.

“The first photograph of the night sky was made in 1850 – a 20-minute exposure of the moon – so you would think that by now we would have it down, but there is no ‘complete solution’ out there. No matter how much money you have, you have to make it yourself.”

“To put this together,” he said, holding up a camera longer than his arm, “required parts from 10 manufacturers, 5 different cable types, and 6 power supplies. I had to get a mount from an old guy in Illinois, who is the only one who makes them. He is in his 70s, and his waiting list is three years, so everyone hopes he doesn’t die. Then there is a 6-pin cable that you have to have, but which nobody makes. You can’t even buy it. You have to make it yourself. It is a voyage of discovery just to get everything you need.”

And that’s just the hardware. Tom used 17 pieces of software to assemble star-studded prints that he brought to the Day 1 celebration. “That’s an improvement over the 20 that it used to take.”

Even after he had his telescope assembled and mounted, and all the software installed, capturing the night’s sky was still challenging.

Tom took this photo with 240 exposures over 39 hours.“This photo of the ghost nebula, or VdB 141, was made from 240 exposures that took 39 hours. It took so much computing power to stitch the images together that the fan on my computer turned on. I didn’t even know it had a fan!”

Wanted: automation and apps

“The last and biggest challenge in do-it-yourself astrophotography is that there is no complete automation. Some tasks have been automated, but it still takes a watchful eye to stay efficient and avoid computer induced disasters. One automated program remotely closed an observatory dome without retracting the telescope, so it crushed the telescope. I want complete automation so I don’t ever again have to sit outside on a bitter cold nights with my computer mouse freezing onto the table. I don’t want any part of that any more. I want automation, an application that will allow me to acquire data and process it automatically.”

Despite the challenges, Tom encouraged all the makers at the Grand Opening to mount whatever camera they have onto a tripod, point it at the heavens, and take a long picture.

“You don’t need a lot of specialized equipment to start making astrophotographs. Just take whatever camera you have, go up to the top of Mary’s Peak, and see what you can get.”

Tom encourages interested stargazers to visit their local astronomy club. He is a member of the Heart of the Valley Astronomers (http://www.hvaastronomy.com) in the Willamette Valley. The club meets in Corvallis the second Tuesday of each month at the fire station by Martin Luther King park. If you have any questions, you can email Tom at www.astronomytom.com.

From the Corvallis MakerSpace inauguration, Tom wishes you clear skies and good seeing!