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home : arts & entertainment : arts & entertainment April 25, 2015

9/3/2013 1:23:00 PM
Stars and nebulae on display at Sisters Library
August 16 and 18, 2012. Sharpless 2-108, also called the Gamma Cygni Nebula in Cygnus. photo bu Rufus Day
+ click to enlarge
August 16 and 18, 2012. Sharpless 2-108, also called the Gamma Cygni Nebula in Cygnus. photo bu Rufus Day

By Sue Stafford

Hanging on the walls of the computer room at the Sisters Library is a month-long photographic exhibit by Rufus Day.

The retired 73-year-old part-time Sisters resident, has captured riveting images of stars and nebulae, each with captivating color and shape.

Retiring to Oregon in 2000 at the suggestion of their son, who lives in Portland, Rufus and Karen Day found they finally had time to pursue their hobbies of astronomy, quilting, and weaving, respectively.

In their Sisters home is a small observatory, built in 2006, which affords Rufus the ability to track and photograph celestial images in a way not possible with the unaided eye. He uses a camera which is set up to focus through a telescope, which in turn is connected to a mount that gradually moves to compensate for the movement of the earth, thus producing clear images without the "trails" seen in a regular time-lapse photograph.

The camera/telescope/mount is all connected to a computer that is set up to take multiple exposures at precise intervals. This procedure is a true labor of love for Rufus, as one image can require anywhere from 7-14 hours of exposure shot over several nights. Long nights are all a part of life for Rufus as he stays up to be sure all goes as planned with the equipment. The photographs are recorded as digital images that are downloaded to the computer and printed and mounted by outside sources.

In layman's terms, the rich reds in Rufus's photographs are the result of the stars shining on the surrounding clouds or nebulae, which have no light themselves. The red has a wavelength barely visible to the human eye and not visible with a regular telescope. The camera filter used by Rufus makes it so our eyes can accept the wavelength and thus see the red.

With Rufus's exhibit at the library for all of September, the citizens of Sisters can enjoy a rare treat. These heavenly images have never been displayed before. When asked if they were for sale, Rufus replied he would rather not sell them. He tried once to put a price on them and gave up, feeling like he was selling his children.

Growing up in Cleveland, OH, Rufus was first introduced to "looking up" by his father who had an old telescope and read "Design of the Universe" to Rufus and his siblings. When he was a post-doctoral candidate in 1967, the first five chapters of the book "Structure and Evolution of the Stars," by Martin Schwarzchild, sparked Rufus's fascination with the formation of stars.

When they relocated to Portland, Rufus joined the Rose City Astronomers, the largest amateur astronomy group in the Northwest. They attended star parties at Kah-Nee-Tah; Camp Hancock, run by OMSI; and the Oregon Star Party held every August in the Ochocos. Rufus and Karen both commented on how fortunate we are to have the dark skies in Central Oregon and they are worth fighting to keep, with Sisters' dark skies ordinance.

All the photographs on display in the computer room are originals shot from his Sisters observatory between 2006, when he began photographing, and 2013. He and Karen both expressed their excitement with being able to share his work with Sisters as they both "feel very much a part of the community."

After receiving his PhD in biophysics, Rufus spent his working life as a molecular biologist researching more effective treatments for brain tumors. Karen was an elementary school teacher who eventually taught aspiring teachers at the University of British Columbia.

When asked what his plans are for the future, Rufus replied, "I wonder myself," and then followed with how he would like to pursue the field of astrophysics to gain more understanding and certainty as to the formation of stars and nebulae.

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