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Jeanette Dunphy
Submitted: Tuesday, 6th November 2012 by Mike Salway

Jeanette Dunphy is part of the furniture around here! Having been a member of IceInSpace for over 7 years, she's known by all and is always happy and always smiling. But let's dig a little deeper into the mind of jjjnettie!

Mike talks to Jeanette about her passion for astronomy and astrophotography, what it's like being a girl in a very male-dominated hobby, and how forums and social networks have changed the enjoyment of astronomy for the better!

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Jeanette Dunphy - always smiling amateur astronomer

IIS: Let's start with a bit about yourself. How old are you (can I ask that? :)) and where are you from?

JD:  :) I’m on the right side of 50. Just.  I’m planning a trip to Hawaii next year to celebrate “Hawaii50”.

I was born in Wollongong, but my family moved up to Brisbane in 1965, when I was 2yrs old. 

IIS: How did you get into astronomy? What fascinates you about astronomy?

JD:  I got into the hobby seriously in 2004 when my kids were studying Astronomy at primary school.  They had a fellow bring his telescope to the school to show us all the night sky.   The first thing he showed us was Omega Centauri.  I was hooked after that.

IIS: When did you get your first telescope, and what was it?

JD: Our first telescope was a wobbly 60mm refractor I bought off ebay, for the kids for xmas.  Before that I was using a pair of 7x35 binos and the all sky map from Sky and Telescope magazine.

They had a fellow bring his telescope to the school to show us all the night sky.   The first thing he showed us was Omega Centauri.  I was hooked after that.

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The ED80 ready for the night

IIS: What gear do you have now?

JD: Now I have a range of telescopes, each has their own purpose.

  • A 10” Goto Dobsonian for visual and Planetary imaging.
  • An ED80 for general wide field work and an RC8 for hunting down Galaxies.
  • I also have a couple of camera lenses that I’ve found to be very good for ultra wide field imaging, a Tamron 90mm F2.8 macro and the Canon Nifty Fifty F1.8.

IIS: No doubt Astronomy is a mostly Male hobby. Has it been harder, or more difficult for you being a female interested in science and Astronomy? If so, in what way(s)?

JD:  To be honest, yes.  It can be humiliating, not being taken seriously.

Another female astronomer and I use the analogy of Waltzing Bears. The audience don’t judge you on how you can dance, they are just amazed at the wonder that we can dance at all.   Now not all men see us that way.  The people who know us well wouldn’t think that at all and that’s wonderful. 

The worst experience was being totally ignored by staff at one of the astro stores.  They did kind of apologise in the end, saying they were waiting for my husband to come into the store so they could serve him.  

Then there are those gents who like to give unsolicited help (bless ‘em) , adjusting a polar aligned mount, changing camera settings, taking the mouse out of my hand and taking over my image processing.  I realise they are only trying to help, but I imagine if I was built like Mike Sidonio they wouldn’t feel they could take such liberties. 

..To be honest, yes.  It can be humiliating, not being taken seriously...

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Are you willing to risk it?

IIS: How have you overcome the difficulties? Is astronomy still a 'boys club'?

JD:  I’ve since put a warning sticker on my scope, which graphically promises pain to anyone who touches my rig.   LOL  But seriously, once one gains a certain amount of experience, knowledge and notoriety, the respect given you from within the astro community rises accordingly.

While Amateur Astronomy is still dominated by males, some women will always find it rather intimidating when they first start out.   I’ve spoken with other women in the hobby, and those without a formal science background seem to find it more difficult. 

IIS: What advice would you give to girls or other ladies wanting to get more into astronomy as a hobby?

JD:  I would give them the same advice as I would anyone.  First off, join IceInSpace. We have a great core group of women on the forum who are more than willing to take any new comers under their wing. 

Then, get in touch with your nearest Astro Society and get along to a few meetings.  Get along to a few star parties. 

Amateur Astronomers, with very few exceptions, are among the very best people you will ever meet. They are understanding, kind, funny, generous with their time, their advice and their expertise.  

Amateur Astronomers, with very few exceptions, are among the very best people you will ever meet. They are understanding, kind, funny, generous with their time, their advice and their expertise.

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The RC8 on the HEQ5

IIS: I notice you've been ramping up your interest in astrophotography over the past few years. How did you get started in Astrophotography? What gear do you use for your astrophotography?

JD:  :) I started out in Astrophotography in 2006, in the same way most imagers start.  By butting the lens of my point and shoot camera up to the eyepiece and taking a shot of the Moon. 

After reading one of Steve Massey’s books, I was inspired to try capturing some video of Jupiter and Saturn using a clunky brick of a video camera, and learned how to process them.  Not an easy thing to do with a non tracking mount.    I then built a barn door mount and experimented with it, but it wasn’t long before I traded in my 10”Dob for a little iOptron Cube in 2007.  I had a great time learning the basics with it. At first using a Gstar Ex camera, then I finally got my first DSLR.  

It was at that stage that my work started getting recognised.  Ioptron took me under their wing and encouraged me to write a beginners article on imaging.  They gave me an iOptron Minitower for my efforts and spent a couple of happy years imaging with it.  In 2009 I finally  upgraded to a serious imaging mount,  a HEQ5Pro, imaging through an ED80 and RC8. 

As mentioned before, I also have a 10” Goto Dob for Planetary work.   Apart from the Gstar Ex, all my previous cameras have all been Canons, a 20D, modded 20D, 550D and most recently an ultra modded and cooled 1100D.

IIS: Do you have an observatory setup at home, or do you have to setup and pull down each session?

JD: As I rent, I can’t have a permanent set up.  But if I’m having a run of good weather, I will leave the rig set up for the duration, covering it well so as to protect it from the heat during the day. 

IIS: Do you do astrophotography for the technical aspect? For the beautiful images? Why do you go through the (pain of) setup, the processing, etc.?

JD:  :) I just like to take pretty pictures.  But I also love the journey.  The setting up, the aligning, all the little fiddly bits that have to be done precisely and properly before you can even take the first sub.  And the final reward for a good nights work is the processing.  I do like those pretty pictures. :)

I have thoughts though of doing SN searching, and bought the RC8 with that in mind. 

...I just like to take pretty pictures.  But I also love the journey.  The setting up, the aligning, all the little fiddly bits that have to be done precisely and properly before you can even take the first sub...

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Spitzer and Dunphy

IIS: What is your biggest achievement so far with your astrophotography?

JD: My biggest achievement so far is happening right now. I was approached by Bill Buckingham, who asked if he could use a couple of my images in the display he is putting together at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre.

He forwarded me 2 images taken by the Spitzer telescope, and my images will be visible light versions of the same regions. There will also be a bit of a write up about myself. They want to show visitors to the Centre, that Astronomy is for everyone, not just scientists in big observatories. So my images aren’t being chosen because they are the best, they were chosen because it’s something anyone with drive, passion and a half decent telescope can achieve.

IIS: What image are you most proud of?

JD: That would have to be my image of Corona Australis that ended up being short listed in 2011 for the Royal Observatory Greenwich Astronomy Photographer of the Year.

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Corona Australis

IIS: What are your goals with your astrophotography?

JD:  I have no real goals, aside from selling a few prints to help pay for more gear.  I just enjoy taking my photos and sharing them with others on the IceInSpace forums as well as on Facebook.

IIS: Do you still do any visual observing, or is it always astrophotography?

JD:  I’ve been known to slip an eyepiece into the 10” Dob.  :)

IIS: Describe a typical week or month of astronomy for you. How often do you observe or do photography?

JD: Since moving into my new house, I’ve done most of my imaging away from home.  Trees and light pollution from neighbours means I have only limited views.   Previously I was outside every clear night. 

...It’s amazing that we can network with Amateur and Professional Astronomers from nearly every country in the world.  We can get our Astro news as it happens, from the source.  How cool is that!...

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Jeanette and her 10" dob

IIS: You're very active on a number of Astronomy Communities and Social Networks such as IceInSpace and Facebook - how have they changed amateur astronomy for you? What do you get out of them?

JD: I’ve been an active member of IceInSpace for over 7 years and during that time I’ve watched the forum grow in numbers as more and more people are taking up the hobby.  It’s a boon for those such as myself who live too far from the bigger towns and cites to join an Astro Society.   I’ve met so many wonderful people through the forums.  People I would otherwise have never met. 

Facebook is much the same, but on a global scale.  It’s amazing that we can network with Amateur and Professional Astronomers from nearly every country in the world.  We can get our Astro news as it happens, from the source.  How cool is that.  On a personal level, just posting my photos has led to some wonderful opportunities. One of my FB friends asked me to be one of the guest speakers, via video hook up, at the Horncastle Astronomy Weekend in the UK which was great fun.  The Time and Space Gallery in California saw my work on FB and asked if they could hang some prints which was very flattering.  Sharing my photography has led me into experiences I never dreamed of.

IIS: Do you attend star parties? Is it for the dark skies or the company?

JD:  Living under relatively dark skies already, I mainly go to star parties for the company.  Every year I attend Queensland Astrofest at Camp Duckadang.   Last year I made it a goal to attend more parties and meet more of the astro folk that I only talk to online.  So last year I attended IISAC for the first time, as well joining the Macarthur Astro Soc for a weekend at their dark sky site “The Forest”.  Earlier this year I joined a few IIS members for a week down at the Pilliga near Coona.  And to top this year off I’m heading on a road trip up to Cairns for the Eclipse.  Now THAT is going to be the ultimate star party. :)

IIS: What or who motivates you? What or who inspires you?

JD:  One only has to look up on a clear dark night for inspiration. :)  I see what others have achieved with their work and it motivates me to try to do the same.  It’s amazing what can now be achieved with amateur equipment.

IIS: What do you enjoy doing when you're not standing out in the dark peering through your viewfinder?

JD:  Having 2 teenage boys at home keeps me fairly busy.  But in my spare time I enjoy reading, a little arts and crafts, photography and gardening. Oh, I’ll be starting a short course on Geology soon. That should keep me busy for a couple of months. :)

IIS: Do you read? What are you reading right now?

JD: I love reading. I usually have 2 or 3 books on the go at any one time.  ATM I am re reading A Short History of Time and working my way through Philip’s “Guide to Weather”. 

IIS: Thankyou very much for taking the time to talk to IceInSpace.

JD:  Thank you for asking me Mike.  It’s been a pleasure.

References and Further Reading

 

Interview by Mike Salway (iceman). Discuss this Interview on the IceInSpace Forum.
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