David Jurasevich pointed a laser into the night sky, aiming it in the direction of a planetary nebula.
From the Mt. Wilson Observatory, set on a ridge at an altitude of 5,715 feet in the San Gabriel Mountains, it's hard to see a colorful shell of ionized gas and dust with the naked eye. That's where the 60-inch Hale telescope, built in 1908, takes over.
Jurasevich, a superintendent at the observatory, led a group of amateur photographers last Sunday night through an astrophotography workshop — the first of its kind offered through Samy's Camera Pasadena and sponsored by Canon.
The Ring Nebula, around 2,283 light years away, was the group's first subject. With the structure's dome open to the evening sky, the class climbed a small ladder to reach the telescope. To accelerate the process, only one camera was attached to the instrument, and the photographers used it to capture their galactic images, storing them on their individual memory cards.
Alan Jacknow, a Kaiser physician who lives in Brentwood, took photographs of Jupiter using the 60-inch telescope on a previous visit to Mt. Wilson.
He said he prefers a smaller group, and had even considered renting the space for a night, but when Samy's announced the class, he jumped at the opportunity.
“I've been trying to arrange to get a group back here for a couple of years,” Jacknow said.
In 2008, Jacknow, who at the time had no previous photography experience, bought a camera while he was on a sabbatical from work. Since then, he's photographed 43 national parks and attended several classes. His work was recently displayed at a Montrose wine bar.
Other photographers in the group had no experience shooting the sky, save for quick shots of the moon.
Sheri Determan, a Glendale native, descends from a family of visual artists. Her father was a Navy photographer. But her specialty is people, not constellations.
“This is something interesting,” she said. “It's something new.”
Diane Chiang, a 20-year-old student at the Pasadena Art Center College of Design, brought her own tripod and moved it around the floor of the observatory to achieve different shots of the open dome against the night sky.
“One of my dreams as a little kid was to see the Milky Way,” she said. “This year was actually my first year to see the Milky Way. I went to Joshua Tree and I got to see all the stars.”
A product design major, Chiang signed up for the workshop as an alternative to lengthy photography classes. “I'd rather go out into the field and learn what I need in that moment,” she said.
She also picked up a few tips from the more seasoned photographers, she said.
The group started their evening in the mountains at 5 p.m., after a two-hour afternoon lecture at Samy's. Jurasevich gave a historical tour of the observatory's facilities, including the 100-inch Hooker telescope, which was the largest telescope in the world when it was built in 1917.
Edwin Hubble measured galaxy distances with the instrument in the 1920s and '30s and found a value to support the theory that the universe is expanding.
Michael W. Cater, a self-proclaimed history buff, said the tour was worth the $79 workshop fee. He grew up at the bottom of the mountain, in Pasadena, and attended Pasadena High School.
Now a pediatrician in Tustin, he said he began buying telescopes after finishing medical school.
“I have six different telescopes, more than I need,” said the 68-year-old Cater. “But I'm kind of an addict. Once you get into something like this, you get addicted to it.”
The thought of driving down Angeles Crest Highway after midnight, when the workshop ended, didn't bother him.
He said he usually stays up late on dark-of-the-moon nights, when Earth's satellite is less visible in the sky, allowing for clearer views of the stars.
“That's astronomer's nights,” he says. “I'm used to being up late on dark-of-the-moon nights, and it doesn't bother me at all. In fact, I don't even shut my scope down until about 3 or 4 in the morning.”