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Skelia_Talks with Sasha, Site SRE engineer at Skelia Kyiv

Who among us wasn’t fascinated by the night sky and stars? It’s a whole other distant world that can make us hold our breath in awe and wonder. But how much do we see of it and how much do we know? Sasha from Skelia’s Kyiv office has been observing celestial objects from his early childhood and has a lot to share about the charms of astronomy.

– Hi Sasha! Tell a bit about yourself.

– I work as a Site SRE engineer on a travel-related project. I feel at ease with my team and I like how the workflow is managed on the project. Compared to my previous work experiences, it’s refreshing. I also enjoy working from home these days and having access to our corporate perks.

– Great to hear! And what do you do besides work?

– Amateur astronomy is my biggest passion. I also have a sort of another job — I am a postgrad radiophysics student. Both things are somehow connected but I’ll focus on my astronomy hobby today.

– Juggling an engineering job, postgrad education, and a hobby? What a thrill! How did you develop a passion for astronomy?

– I don’t even remember when it started. My parents told me I expressed interest in astronomy when I was 6. I happened to have a book on astronomy, which I couldn’t read at the time but I did enjoy looking at the images of constellations and planets. We were living in a regional center back then and didn’t have any computers. I listened to radio programs on astronomy and I especially liked the one made at the major observatory. Once they announced a basic course enrollment that required an exam. I passed it and got accepted. This is the beginning of the whole story.

We didn’t have too much of street lightning in our city which made sky visibility way better: when there are no street lamps, there’s no diffused light. If you look up at the sky in any big city like Kyiv, you won’t see the Milky Way. I had a chance to observe the sky and learn the configurations of constellations. Once I’ve overgrown just looking at it with my bare eyes, I’ve built a handmade telescope.

– Wow! What did you use to make it?

Handmade telescope

– Well, it looked strange, like Frankenstein. I used lenses from ordinary glasses and a roll of wallpaper. It was a pretty humble device. Now, you can buy any telescope you want depending on your budget but then I had to improvise.

– Did the interest last when you were growing up?

– During my school years, I was learning more and more, exploring the sky, the moon, the nebulas. I observed how Venus and Mercury cross the sun in a solar transit. I saw lunar and solar eclipses. It was quite a lot.

When I started at university, my hobby gave way to other activities. When I found a stable job, that’s when I returned to my passion and could afford to buy different telescopes.

– Are you into astrophotography?

– Yes, I love it! I have great pictures of the Moon and the Orion Nebula — it is fabulous on photos. I try going on all-night outings with friends at least once a year. We take equipment and observe all the biggest celestial objects, while I explain some details. It’s somehow like camping: we bring the food to cook and enjoy each other’s company. There were times the number of people reached 30. But it’s hard to plan such outings in advance because of the weather so we usually decide shortly before going.

Sky observation
All-night outings with friends

– Do you have favorite celestial objects?

– Each and every object is interesting. Naturally, everybody likes the Moon — if observed through high magnification, it shows you a whole other world. The lunar terminator — the line that separates light and shadow — is fascinating: you can see all the objects through their shadows. Given that the Moon has no atmosphere, light doesn’t get scattered and you can clearly see all the details, observe lunar craters and mountains. The words can’t express what you see there.

Moon
Moon terminator

– What about the knowledge base: what do you need to study to pursue astronomy?

– It depends on how seriously you take it. It’s one thing when you just want to observe the sky, it’s another thing when you want to do astrophotography, and it’s a completely different thing when you’re interested in the nature of space. I try combining all I’ve mentioned. 

For one thing, it takes time to learn how to orientate and identify reference points. Even when you know what you’re looking for, it’s still hard to find. There’s even a specific part attached to a telescope called a finderscope that helps identify celestial objects. Sometimes, you need half an hour just to set a telescope properly. But it all comes with practice. 

Astrophotography
M42, Orion Nebula and Sunspots

Astrophotography is a step forward. It often happens that you don’t see with your eyes the objects you photograph. Here, you’re dealing with the long exposure time, up to several hours. In our digital era, long exposures are practically impossible because of the image sensor noise. Now, we are making a bunch of photos: only if several pictures are overlapped, we can see something. This process along with noise filtering is a true craft: you need to understand the technical aspects of how a camera is built and how the image is produced and you need to work with a specific piece of software.

Star cluster in Hercules M13 and the Great Andromeda Nebula, also known as the Andromeda Galaxy, or M31

– Do you dream about visiting some observatories, or maybe you’ve already been to some?

– I occasionally visit Kyiv Astronomical Observatory. Sure, I would love to visit the biggest world observatories. The closest one is located in Spain, they have a telescope 10-12 meters in diameter! 

– Do you have any distinct astronomy goals?

– It’s a hobby that gives me thrill and excitement. Amateur astronomers often discover asteroids or comets. Why? Because it takes a long and scrupulous observation to find a new asteroid or comet. It often happens unintendedly. For instance, Ukrainian amateur astronomer discovered the first extrasolar comet.

– Would you like to have an asteroid or comet being named after you?

– Sure, why not.

– Thanks for sharing your passion and excitement with us! We certainly now have a captivating image of the sky in front of our eyes. To sum up our talk, what would you advise those who have an interest in astronomy?

– Amateur astronomy starts from simple sky observation. The basis you need is to learn how to orient, to identify constellations. When you feel everything is familiar, then you can buy or make a telescope. There’s a lot of information on the web. But the main thing is your continuous interest — there’s no point in having a telescope that gathers dust and is not put to use.

All photos used in this article were made and kindly provided by Sasha.

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