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Where No Camera Has Gone Before

Photo Credit: Felix Mittermeier 
Hamid Amirani - 2.21.19

In an age when we're continually bombarded with videos on rolling news channels, on social media platforms and on websites like YouTube, certain events serve as a reminder that still photography remains the most awe-inspiring medium.

In recent weeks, the excitement that greeted photos of Ultima Thule and the far side of the moon have again proven the enormous power that still photography continues to have, something that Cecilia customers, for whom photography is a passion or profession, already know and appreciate.

Ultima Thule, which means "beyond the known world," is what NASA designates a KBO: Kuiper Belt Object. It's a contact binary; two joined bodies consisting of ice and dust that inhabit the Kuiper Belt at the far reaches of our solar system. The initial photographs generated buzz because Ultima Thule appeared to resemble a snowman in deep space and is the most distant object ever seen by humans.

To be precise, at 05:33 on 1st January 2019 (UTC), the New Horizons craft, approximately 4.13 billion miles (6.64 billion kilometers) from Earth, took images of Ultima Thule, or to call it by its actual name, 2014 MU69, and thus achieved the momentous milestone of being "the most distant planetary flyby in history."

The striking images were taken by the New Horizons' wide-angle Multicolor Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC). Once they were transmitted back to earth, scientists used a process called deconvolution to sharpen the images and reveal more detail. The clearest image reveals striking details on the two lobes, including "the bright 'collar' separating the two lobes."

Ultima Thule 
Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

One might wonder why these initial images aren't PR-friendly color photos, but as planetary scientist Noam Izenberg has explained in the past, grayscale images are more useful for research purposes. The panachrome cameras on space probes generate photos "from all light in the visible spectrum" and also "infrared and ultraviolet light past each end of the visible spectrum."

Since those initial images, NASA has discovered that Ultima Thule isn’t actually a cosmic snowman. New data from departure photos taken at a different angle to the approach images has revealed a portion that wasn’t exposed by the sun during the fly-by. This hidden part has been traced out “because it blocked the view to background stars also in the image.” Ultima, the larger lobe, looks like a flattened pancake, and Thule, the smaller segment, is “shaped like a dented walnut.”

‘The image to the left is an “average” of ten images taken by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI); the crescent is blurred in the raw frames because a relatively long exposure time was used during this rapid scan to boost the camera’s signal level. Mission scientists have been able to process the image, removing the motion blur to produce a sharper, brighter view of Ultima Thule’s thin crescent.’ 
Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/National Optical Astronomy Observatory

The very next day, 2nd January 2019, history was again made when China sent back the first ever images of the far side of the moon. The Chang'e-4 lunar probe, named after an ancient moon goddess, touched down in the South Pole-Aitken Basin, the moon's largest and oldest impact crater, and photographed the side of the moon that's never been previously visited by a human or rover. Due to the moon's orbit being aligned with Earth's, the same side of the moon always faces us, and the far side is perpetually hidden from view. Planetary scientist Clive Neal said, "Chang'e-4 represents the first time that any nation has attempted to put down a soft lander on the far side of the moon, to then deploy a rover to explore."

Never before seen: The far side of the moon 
Credit: CNSA (China National Space Administration)

It's come to be colloquially known as the dark side of the moon, though this is actually a misnomer, since it receives just as much light as the side visible to Earth.

Of course, Cecilia customers needn't go into the cosmos for awe inspiring images. The incredible exists here and now on Earth every time the avid photographer captures a shot of people, nature or change in all its forms, whether beautiful, stark or disturbing. 

That said, with space tourism potentially on the way, customers of the future could one day be setting their sights and their cameras on celestial bodies, which is fitting because they already say Cecilia products are out of this world.

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