Wed, Jul 30, 2003 - Page 4 News List

Star-gazing dropout captures Saturn skillfully on film

MARS MISSION His next astronomical target is the Red Planet, which will soon cut the closest to Planet Earth it has been in many tens of thousands of years


A tenacious amateur student of astronomy has been rewarded for his near obsession with star-gazing by having one of his photographs of Saturn published in the August issue of the US magazine Sky & Telescope.

Yen Yi-cheng (顏易程), 21, who will be an electrical engineering senior at I-Shou University, Kaohsiung County this year, last winter spent five days and nights on the highest mountain in southern Taiwan, Alishan, capturing the image of an unusual storm on the surface of the ringed planet.

The rare photo was made possible only after Yen successfully overcame atmospheric disturbances to capture the image, which was then digitally enhanced.

Yen, an astronomy buff, has not always had the same success here on earth as he has in his other-worldly endeavors: he flunked out of the prestigious National Kaohsiung High School after failing almost every subject he took because of his star-gazing.

Yen then transferred to a less prominent high school but his fascination with astronomy showed no signs of abating.

As a high school student, Yen rode his motorbike nearly two hours from Kaohsiung City to National Cheng Kung University located in Tainan City once every week to pour over astronomical reports.

Particularly drawn to information on the stellar spectrum, Yen spent three years researching and developing a homemade spectrographic and star analyzing equipment.

The homemade equipment was voted one of the most outstanding pieces selected from more than 1,000 entries at the 49th World Youth Science Research Competition sponsored by the International Sci-Tech Exposition Association of the United States in 2000.

The same equipment also won Yen a NASA honorable-mention award, an honorable-mention award from the Optical Society of America, and an Eastman Kodak Company First Award.

Yen said academic performance at school is not everything, although he will try hard to finish his university courses.

"The point is that I have found a niche for myself -- astronomy, " Yen said.

Currently a division director of the Kaohsiung Astronomical Society, Yen has been busy with research work and lecturing at the astronomy clubs of several high schools in the Kaohsiung area.

Yen has recently been observing and studying Mars. By late August, Mars will be about 191 million miles closer to the Earth than normal and will appear more than six times larger and shine some 85 times brighter. This will be the closest that Mars has come to our planet in nearly 60,000 years.

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