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Startalk Radio / Capturing the Cosmos with Babak Tafreshi | Startalk Radio

Capturing the Cosmos with Babak Tafreshi | Startalk Radio

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In this episode of Startalk Radio, host Neil deGrasse Tyson explores the captivating world of astrophotography and the importance of preserving dark skies. His guest, Babak Tafreshi, a National Geographic explorer and amateur astronomer, shares his expertise on capturing the cosmos through stunning images and discusses the impact of light pollution on our environment and health.

Main Takeaways

Cosmic Queries and Meteor Showers

  • “Cosmic queries” is a popular topic for the show and meteor showers are a topic of discussion in this episode.
  • Meteor showers can lead to unexpected and awe-inspiring moments, such as a meteor appearing to head straight towards the viewer.

Dark Skies and Preservation

  • Babak Tafreshi is an advocate for dark skies and preserving the night sky.
  • Dark skies are important for astronomy and the environment.
  • Light pollution wastes energy and harms billions of birds and nocturnal animals.
  • Light pollution affects human health by changing sleep cycles.
  • The International Dark-Sky Association works to preserve dark skies and educate the public about the importance of reducing light pollution.

Astrophotography Tips and Techniques

  • Tafreshi shares tips on how to photograph meteor showers, including using a tripod and long exposure.
  • Tafreshi also discusses his work capturing stunning images of the night sky, including the Milky Way and auroras.
  • Astrophotography beginners can start with any digital camera, including a selfie camera, on a tripod or adapter.
  • Raw format is recommended for capturing low-light images on phones and cameras.
  • A lens with a wide aperture, such as F2 or 1.4, is necessary for astrophotography.

The Impact of Light Pollution

  • LEDs are much brighter and can create more sky glow if not used properly.
  • Switching to LED lights can save money even if the illumination is brighter.
  • Blue light from LEDs can disrupt sleep patterns by reducing melatonin production.
  • Using red lights on turtle-friendly beaches can help prevent turtles from getting disoriented and going in the wrong direction.
  • Light pollution affects not only our view of the stars, but also the natural cycles of plants and animals.

Capturing Phenomena and Encouraging Documentation

  • Phone cameras are now using high ISOs, allowing for handheld photos of the Milky Way.
  • Ball lightning is a ball of charged particles in the air that travels slowly and has never been properly documented by a camera.
  • UFO sightings and other atmospheric phenomena can now be captured with smartphones and brought to a clearinghouse for analysis.
  • The recent NASA hearings encourage people to document anything they don’t understand with their smartphones and metadata.


Preserving Dark Skies and the Impact of Light Pollution

Babak Tafreshi, an advocate for dark skies, emphasizes the importance of preserving the night sky for both astronomical observations and the well-being of our environment. Light pollution, caused by excessive artificial lighting, not only hinders our ability to see the stars but also wastes energy and disrupts the natural cycles of plants and animals. Tafreshi encourages communities to address light pollution by educating themselves and making conscious changes in lighting habits, such as using properly directed LEDs and implementing red lights on turtle-friendly beaches to protect marine life.

Astrophotography Tips and Techniques

Tafreshi shares valuable insights into capturing the beauty of the night sky through astrophotography. Whether using a digital camera or a smartphone, he recommends using a tripod and long exposure for photographing meteor showers and celestial objects like the Milky Way and auroras. Beginners can start with any digital camera, even a selfie camera, and should shoot in raw format for better results in low-light conditions. A wide aperture lens, such as F2 or 1.4, is essential for capturing detailed and vibrant images of the cosmos.

Documenting Phenomena and the Importance of Dark Sky Locations

Tafreshi highlights the power of smartphones in capturing and documenting various atmospheric phenomena, including UFO sightings and ball lightning. He encourages people to use their smartphones to record unexplained events and share them with experts for analysis. Additionally, Tafreshi emphasizes the significance of finding dark sky locations for optimal stargazing and astrophotography. Resources such as and help identify the darkest sky areas, both within and outside of cities, allowing individuals to fully appreciate the wonders of the night sky.


Through the captivating conversation with Babak Tafreshi, listeners gain a deeper understanding of the importance of preserving dark skies, the art of astrophotography, and the impact of light pollution on our environment and well-being. By taking steps to reduce light pollution and seeking out dark sky locations, we can reconnect with the awe-inspiring beauty of the cosmos and contribute to the preservation of our natural world.

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