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Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2015

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'Capturing the Cosmos'

Princeton junior Cody O'Neil traveled to Chile to practice astrophotography with the support of the Martin A. Dale '53 Summer Award, a $4,000 stipend given to a handful of students to pursue an independent project not connected to academic coursework. Read more.

Video Closed Captions


CODY O'NEIL: I had heard of the
Dale project in me early

sophomore year.

There was talk around campus
about this possibility to go

and spend a summer in place
of choice and do

an independent project.

I had just recently taken
a course in the astro


One portion of that course
was astrophotography.

And it required us to go out
and take photographs

of the night sky.

That was something I
hadn't done before.

I always had a passion for
astronomy and cosmology.

And I thought that the Dale
would be a really neat

opportunity at this point in
my undergraduate career to

take that small section of that
course and turn it into a

project myself and go and
photograph the night sky in

Chile in South America.

The highlights of my entire
trip down in Chile was

actually my third day
in the country.

I had the opportunity to go
about 75 miles into the

Atacama Desert.

And I went in there, there was
an astronomer who basically

living out in the
Atacama Desert.

He had a small home that he
built there for himself as

well as an observatory.

I went up to the top of the
observatory there and it was

new moon, meaning there
was absolutely no

moonlight at all.

It was just the start light
in the sky above.

And the professor looked at me,
he told me to hold my hand

over top of my camera.

And as I put up my hand up above
my camera like this, I

could actually see the shadow of
my own hand on the camera.

That shadow was from the light
of the Milky Way galaxy.

At that point I realized I was
standing quite literally in

the shadow of the stars which
was quite a wild experience.

I think a lot of the time it's
easy to be intimidated and

challenged in ways by the
universe as we are

familiar with it.

And that really shakes
our sense of place

a lot of the time.

And we struggle to root
ourselves here on planet earth

when we're standing
beneath something

that's truly so vast.

And so what the trip really
allowed me to do is to go

closer to the stars in
a certain way through

photographing them, and learning
about them, to

realize my own connection as
being an earthly inhabitant,

but also one of the sky's.

One of the great things about
the project, specifically with

astrophotography is
that it was very

interdisciplinary in a sense.

It forced me to consider,
as does the liberal arts

education here at Princeton,
connections across varying

academic disciplines that you
might not see going in.

And so the fact that philosophy
blends in with

astronomy, and there's this
artistic component in the

actual photography itself
is fascinating.

That one can realize the true
value and not tying himself

down to one specific area of
interest but rather force

themselves to see the
connections between them.

If there was any sophomore that
was uncertain or perhaps

a little hesitant to apply for
the Dale, I would encourage it

on all regards.

It is truly a very unique
opportunity to not only get

out there and explore interests
further but to

really challenge yourself.

And having eight weeks, and
being in a place that you're

completely unfamiliar with,
and start asking questions

that you really otherwise

And putting yourself in a brand
new environment in the

case of mine, being tossed
into the desert and lying

beneath the stars, and forced
to ask questions that

otherwise wouldn't.


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