The news is hidden in the folds of one of the many internal technical bulletins, in this case, the National Institute of Astrophysical News. It sends Italy sky-high… Not so to say, but literally up where darkness makes its way and the bright spots draw the route, since the times of the Three Wise Men till present times. The chromatic universe of one of them in particular, 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, is basically limited to different shades of grey. One of the proposals for collaboration between scientists and enthusiasts put forward by Padma Yanamandra Fisher, from the Space Science Institute, as part of ThePACAProject (Professional – Amateur Astronomy Collaborative) consisted exactly in an invitation to “put some makeup” on the Rosetta comet. How? Giving it the colors it misses. Not to transform it into something it is not, make no mistake, but to help us better know and appreciate it.
A scientific makeup, to put it otherwise, in which the most spectacular results are those obtained by a 35 year-old amateur astronomer from Fiumicino, near Rome, Giuseppe Conzo. A slap in the face of those who think that Italy is no longer the country that offers intelligence to the world. He has been interviewed by Marco Malaspina and we report the full text of their conversation. He asked Conzo how he managed to produce his spectacular creations, based on photos of Rosetta made by the OSIRIS camera. “I’ve been passionate about astronomy since childhood and I nourish it every day as if it where my firstborn child. I work is in the telecommunications sector, as an analyst at a known telephone company, but I’m not trying to hide that every day astronomy enriches my day, my life, and makes me realize how small and fragile we are with respect to the immense Universe”.
Tell us about this group of enthusiasts and scientists who work together and about how you became a part of it? “The support group of the Rosetta mission is a group of amateur astronomers on the Web, mostly on Facebook. It is a closed group. It is called PACA_Rosetta67P there are about 200 members in it. Access can be obtained only upon the invitation of one of the administrators. I received the invitation to join the group directly from Padama Yanamandra Fisher, senior research scientist at the Space Science Institute, in April 2015”.
How do you find images for your elaborations? “The original images are nothing more than images published by ESA, the European Space Agency, on its own site. They are accessible to everyone. Normally, ESA publishes those images in PNG or JPG format. Occasionally, photos in FITS format are published on the site”.
What are the graphic tools you use? “I used mainly two programs: Photoshop and AstroimajeJ. The first one is widespread, the second one is a word processing software and astronomical analysis in terms of pixels of the image itself. It allows you to combine the RGB channels of an image, but also to perform analysis on the number of pixels in a given frame, and from there you can even obtain “thermal” charts or diagrams of the surface to be studied. Obviously, everything in terms of pixels: Thermal analysis therefore refers not to the true and proper temperature, but is an analysis of the amount of pixels generated in a part of a specific image.”
It seems very complicated… how long does it take? “Typically, the longest task in elaborating these images is creating pseudo-RGB-channels. Every image, to be processed, requires a time that may go from half an hour to two hours. It depends on the complexity of the image”.
What are the goals you pursue by modifying those images? “My goal and task inside the group, so to say, consists in transforming the original images published by ESA, which are black and white” into images in false colors. “There are two reasons for it: one is strictly aesthetic, that is to show the comet in all its splendor; the other is a more technical-scientific goal. In fact, producing images in “false color”, you can see details of the comet’s surface which are difficult to see on black and white photos. For example, it may be helpful to understand the degree of reflection of sunlight in different parts of the comet, then you can have some more information about the surface visible in the frame.”
Is there a prize? “All the members of the PACA Rosetta 67P group have been given a participation certificate that guarantees their membership.”
Can you reveal some of your “professional tricks” for those who want to join the support group? “Frankly, I do not think there is a specific for joining the group. For example, I was invited unexpectedly. The only thing I can say and recommend everyone is not to do something already known, something really special, like I did and continue to do with the comet images. After all, images of the comet are made available to everyone by ESA. The special thing I added to them was turning them into color images to show new results.”
They say that the head of the Philae, Amalia Ercoli-Finzi, when she first “saw” 67P exclaimed that it was an ugly comet. What’s your opinion? Can your work help the Professor to change her mind? “Well, truth to be told, the comet 67P does not have a nice silhouette… But its very ugliness shows the quality of an object of this kind. In fact, due to its irregular shape, with two different lobes, you can learn a lot about the nature of this type of solar system objects. Recently, ESA found that the comet 67P is a light and porous object, like a pumice stone. The similarities it shows with the features of many existing rocky objects on our planet is important.”
WHO IS GIUSEPPE CONZO AND WHAT DOES HE DO
He is an amateur astronomer since childhood has been nourishing his fantastic passion for astronomy every day. He lives in Palidoro (Fiumicino) and is happily married. “I love the place where I live – he says – and a few months ago I thought about giving Palidoro the possibility to know this fantastic discipline. In September, I organized the first public telescope observation for the inhabitants of Palidoro and in October I started several astronomy courses open to everyone in the parish SS Philip and James located in the old town. My project is “sowing astronomy”, so that we can raise awareness among people and institutions, but especially among the little ones who can have the opportunity to understand how the Universe works from an early age. My secret dream? To open an astronomical observatory in the town of Fiumicino”.