Teen discovers galaxies light years away in his Wyoming backyard

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Dylan Webster looks toward the night sky in Wyoming. The 14 year-old LCCVI student has been photographing the stars with amazing results.

Heather Wright/The Independent

Dylan Webster is amazed how big the universe is.

The 14 year-old LCCVI student’s hobby gives him an up close view of galaxies millions of light years away, all from the backyard of his dad’s home near Wyoming.

For the past year or so, Webster has been taking his telescope and camera outdoors at night to view the stars and take pictures of what he sees.

“I’ve always thought those pictures that NASA takes with their Hubble Space Telescope…were so amazing and interesting,” says Webster.

“And then, I saw other people were doing it from their backyard, and if you buy the right equipment, you can take photos, just like that. So I thought, if I could do it too, that would be pretty cool.”

Webster started with a digital SLR camera in November and set it up on his deck, looking for the nearest constellations.

“I just took, like 10 second exposures of the night sky, and I was able to see the constellation.”

By the spring, he was hooked, plugging into online forums and learning how to get even closer to the stars. He was given a small telescope with a tracking mount so he could capture even more of the night sky.

“I could point it at this one galaxy and it would move and point at it and then it would track the sky. So instead of the night sky moving, it would keep the galaxy in the center of the camera frame.” That produced much sharper images.

Soon, Webster was upgrading his equipment, getting a larger tracking mount to see even deeper into space. The equipment is much more complex now, with a larger telescope and a digital camera with a 200 mm zoom lense, warming rings to make sure the telescope doesn’t fog up with condensation and it is all linked to his laptop. The unit weighs about 100 pounds and takes about an hour to set up.

For Webster, it’s worth the effort to combine photography, technology and science to capture the stars.

“I was still able to see galaxies that are like millions of light years away. The one galaxy I captured, it was the Cigar Galaxy, it’s something like 40 million light years away.

“That’s what’s the amazing part is, how big the universe is.

“Sometimes I just stop and look and just think like, ‘Wow, how beautiful.’ And then sometimes when the image pops up on my computer after it’s done taking an exposure, sometimes, my jaw just drops because it’s like, that was not what I was expecting.”

The teen doesn’t plan to make a career of photographing the stars. But he does want to be close to the stars, working in the aerospace industry.

For now, Webster is happy capturing what can be seen in the Plympton-Wyoming night sky and hoping that someday NASA will choose one of his photographs in its Amateur Astronomer competition.