I’ve been shooting pictures for about eight years now, since my freshman year of high school, and have truly fallen in love with it. So much of what I’ve done since my passion blossomed has been in the name of furthering my craft: learning more about the techniques, the math behind it, the physics of it, the mechanics of it, the art.
In the years that I’ve been shooting, and especially in the years that I’ve been shooting more professionally, I’ve noticed how I’ve become a proverbial “nerd” in many ways. While most people find themselves window-shopping for something like clothes or new shoes, I frequently find myself going to the nearest electronic store and looking at and SD card’s data read and write speeds (my card is 300 megabytes per second, just for the record).
Nerdy as I’ve become, the question for me has always been: What’s next? What’s the better camera? What’s the fastest aperture lens? What’s the next, most challenging shoot I can go on?
Well, a fun fact about photography is that bigger is damn near always better in this field. If you have a camera with a bigger sensor, you’re more capable of countless types of imaging. And along with that massive sensor, you’d need an absolutely massive lens to go with it too.
Pair the idea of “bigger is better” with one of the most interesting, challenging, and specialized forms of photography and what do you get? Astronomy. A telescope. A massive CCD sensor. Processing power so immense and so hot that half of the lens’ structure alone is dedicated just to cooling it down.
And behind it all is one person who’s watching every click of the shutter, combing through all the thousands of photos, finding what’s interesting, finding what matters to us, what appeals to the human race. One of these people in Tucson is Carson Fuls, one of a senior research specialist for the Catalina Sky Survey.
Fuls and his team operate two telescopes on the summit of Mount Lemmon: a 60-inch and a 40-inch. Every night, one of the astronomers mans the 60-inch telescope and scans several blocked-out sectors of the Milky Way galaxy, trying to locate and track any near-earth objects that that may or may not be on a collision course with our planet.
On Oct. 6, 2019, I spent six hours with Fuls up on the mountain to see what a day in the life was like for someone like him. Through the course of the night, we studied the stars and discussed everything about the history of the mountain, his background in physics, how he got into the astronomy field, the logistics of living on a mountain away from family for days at a time, and how he met his wife through the Sky Survey work.
Also in our conversation, he mentioned how there’s an engineering component of his job for when he’s not on the mountain observing speeding bullets in the sky. On Oct. 29, Fuls and I met again, this time on the ground, to see how the Sky Survey’s offices are beneath the 9,000-foot rock megalith. While at the workspace in the Lunar & Planetary Laboratory, I took photos of Fuls as he worked on a new microchip to regulate shutter actuations on a telescope that the Catalina Sky Survey team are modifying.