John Whitby often spends the night looking at the stars. No, this isn’t a case of wistfulness but rather a passion for astronomy and in particular showing people the wonders of the southern night sky which he does by broadcasting what he is viewing as a real-time, high-resolution video image.
“I have been broadcasting for about a year now, people from all over the world are watching. I have a headset with a mic and I can tell them what I’m looking at. They can type-chat back with questions and comments. It’s great.”
John is a man of many skills. He runs his own commercial mowing business and is also well known locally for his forty year career as a practitioner and teacher of karate. Having caught the astronomy bug after buying his son a 4-inch refracting telescope he decided to go the whole hog and he bought a much larger 12-inch reflector research telescope. He has had a huge learning curve. He describes the astronomers he has met as being “like the black belts and I’m just the beginner”.
He has plenty of high-tech equipment all housed on a viewing platform that John designed and built himself so that he could get above the trees. As well as the telescope itself the other crucial piece of equipment is a special video camera which was hand-made in America by the quirkily-named, Rock Mallin. The camera provides extremely high resolution images in colour.
“Without WIZ I couldn’t actually broadcast. The system requires a minimum of 1 Mbps upload speed. We used to have a satellite account but the upload speed was way too slow. With WIZ I can get upload speeds of up to 4Mbps.”
John’s enthusiasm is palpable: “One night recently I was viewing the Tarantula nebula, it was a really clear night, the image and the internet speed was so good that people thought it looked 3-D. It was incredible. Man, it was magic!”