About TieDyeAstronomer

Hello and welcome! My name is Lauren Herrington, and I’m the TieDyeAstronomer. My passion is the sky, and my love is sharing it with others. If you’re interested in astronomy, and have any questions you’d like answered, please feel free to contact me and I’ll do my best to help. My most recent interests are centered on the subjects of spectrography and meteorology. I’m also keenly interested in visual observing, budget astrophotography, atmospheric optical phenomena, and human vision. I do intend to go to college, but I haven’t decided on a school yet. If you know of a college/program that you’d recommend, I’d be pleased to hear about it.

Firsts, Favorites, & Faintests
  • First light for my XT8: The Orion Nebula
  • First non-star cluster NGC object observed: The Eskimo Nebula
  • First remembered view of the Milky Way: Late summer 2014
  • First observing pin: TSP 2017 Advanced List – Open Clusters & Asterisms
  • Favorite open clusters: NGC 6633 & Berkeley 6
  • Favorite astronomy project: The SDSS
  • Favorite astronomy book: A Grand and Bold Thing
  • Favorite observatory: McDonald Observatory, Ft. Davis, TX
  • Current favorite stellar spectrum: Betelgeuse  
  • Faintest object observed with my 12″: IFN; runner up: LEDA 86788 (g’mag 16.6)
  • Faintest object observed with my 12″ under ‘white zone’ city skies: HS 0624+6907 (Vmag ~14.1)
  • Faintest object observed with my 8″: CGCG 199-25 (Bmag 15.6)

My beloved SEGUE plate and me, in front of the SDSS telescope.

TieDyeAstronomer Bio

My interest in astronomy began to grow in the summer of 2014, when I was 13. That summer, I borrowed a refractor telescope from my little brother’s 4 year old friend (“Edu Science”– a Toys-R-Us brand!), and my brother and I spent many a night happily browsing the sky, looking at assorted stars, Jupiter, and the Moon. It may have been a junk telescope by most people’s standards, but that didn’t matter to me– it gave me some of my favorite wonder-filled nights under the sky. Late that fall, my grandma bought me my XT8, and I spent the next nearly two years enjoying nights spent at its eyepiece, as well as sharing the views at the local monthly starparties hosted by the Texas Astronomical Society.

Light pollution was extremely discouraging to me, especially after I moved to the milky-white skies of Houston. Eventually, after one too many frustrating nights spent unable find my targets, I stopped observing. I still thought of myself as an astronomer; and I continued to read about astronomy, work on citizen science projects on zooniverse.org, and spend many a long contemplative night exploring the universe through SpaceEngine. But I didn’t begin to observe again until early 2017, when I volunteered for my first outreach event with the Houston Astronomical Society.

It was then that I got noticed.

Up until this point, most (but not all) of the other astronomers I’d met wouldn’t give me the time of day; I guess because I was young. I was used to being ignored. But at an early February H.A.S. outreach event, I met some friends who opened doors for me, and suddenly I was “in”.

Observing with my XT8 in the early days — 2015.

What followed was a flurry of activity: buying my 12″ dob, making long trips to dark skies and major starparties, and attending as many meetings and events as possible for the opportunity to talk to other astronomers. The HAS leadership team put a vote to the membership to create a new elected position of “Youth Director” so that I could serve despite being under 18, and I served on the Board of Directors for two years. And we were given the opportunity to rent a plot out at the HAS dark site, on which my family and I built a dob shed from the ground up.

Even though I now had regular access to dark skies, I returned to urban observing, armed with an important new tool: digital charts. I’m a paper charts girl in philosophy, but when one of my newfound friends introduced me to SkyTools 3, there was no denying the difference. 

Anxiously awaiting dark at TSP 2018.

Whereas before I’d quit out of frustration at not even being able to find bright Messier objects, I now found that quite a lot more of the deep sky is visible in the city than most people think… as long as you know exactly where to look! Pointing at roughly the right area and then just panning around the sky like I used to do was a recipe for failure; but with the custom charts in SkyTools I was able to pinpoint the exact starfield of each of my targets in a few minutes, and then spend as long as I wanted studying my target.

In 2018, it finally happened: I was bit by the astrophotography bug. That summer, I borrowed my mom’s old Canon Rebel (350D) and a beat-up tripod, and started taking photos from our backyard. No tracking: just point-and-shoot-and-stack-hundreds-of-frames. An outside observer might have thought the resulting images poor compared to those of master astrophotographers, but I didn’t care one whit! It was terribly exciting to see those little star clusters and galaxies pop up as faint clusters of pixels. And I quickly discovered that combining my hundreds of images into timelapses instead of single stacked images produces results which look more natural to my eye; reminding me of the feeling of standing out under the sky.

My interest in spectrography has existed for almost as long as my interest in astronomy, but it wasn’t until early 2019 that I learned how to pursue it.

Until this point, I’d believed that spectrography of astronomical objects was only feasible for professional astronomers with access to big observatories, and perhaps a few crazy smart, rich amateurs who could afford to design and build their own spectrographic observatories (an impression gained by browsing the awe-inspiring projects on Christian Buil’s website!). I believed that it was definitely out of reach of a girl with a backyard telescope– but someday, I figured, perhaps someday I’d be the professional operating the observatory scope.

Ready for a night of short-exposure imaging.

In the meantime, even if I couldn’t record astronomical spectra myself, I was in love with the concept; so I spent years exploring in other ways. Cloudy nights were often filled by building spectroscopes out of CDs and cardboard, or printing crude diffraction gratings on transparency film, or browsing the fantastic spectra in the SDSS SkyServer.

At one point I read that you could record stellar spectra with a Star Analyzer grating, so I asked for one for Christmas in 2017; but that was before I even knew how to use a DSLR for astrophotography, so the few spectra which I managed to capture came out featureless. (Not that I knew how to analyze them anyway!) So, I stopped trying. Every now and then I’d screw the Star Analyzer onto the end of my eyepiece to peek at a few stellar spectra visually, but for years I believed that if I wanted to actually record a scientific spectrum of anything fainter than fireworks or streetlamps, I was out of luck.

But then, knowing my interest, my mom persuaded me to attend the second Sacramento Mountains Spectrography Workshop (SMSW-II), held in February 2019. (Thanks, Mom!)

One of many cardboard-&-CD spectroscopes which I built. This one’s from 2016.

At SMSW-II, I was greeted by the single most welcoming group of astronomers I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting! There was no need to ‘break in’ or ‘prove myself’– these brilliant folks just welcomed me with open arms.

I’m quite sure that I learned more about spectrography in those 3 days than I would have learned in the next 3 years otherwise!

As wonderful of an experience as SMSW-II was, it had one big flaw– it was focused entirely on high-end slit spectrographs, and neglected slitless gratings like my own Star Analyzer. As a result, I very nearly came away with the impression that I, personally, could not take useful spectra; not without many thousands of dollars of specialized equipment. Fortunately, I met a few kind souls during the conference who went out of their way to encourage me to pursue working with spectra using my Star Analzyer. I’m so glad that they did. My first few spectra after SMSW-II were disappointing, but I kept trying.

Eventually, after a year of refinement, I’d developed a solid method for recording very high quality, scientifically useful spectra with just the simple equipment I had on hand. The method is called the ‘drift scanning method‘, and all you need to get started is a camera, a diffraction grating, and a telescope of any kind (tracking is not required).

Though the drift scanning method is simple, I haven’t been able to find any existing resources or teachers of the method. So, I decided to spread the word myself: Spectrography is easier than you think! 

A peek through the doors at SMSW-II. Guess which attendee is me?

If you’re interested in recording your own scientific stellar spectra, I’ve written a simple-but-detailed guide to the drift scanning method, and you can read it here:

I’ve been homeschooled for most of my life (specifically, interest-led unschooling). Through everything, my mom has always been my #1 supporter, making certain that I have the opportunities I need to pursue my passion and continue learning. She’s helped make me who I am today. And I feel certain that had I been placed in the public school system, there’s simply no way that I would have been able to become an astronomer at such a young age.

When the winds were too high to go up the mountain to take spectra using an observatory as planned on night #2 of SMSW-II, I hosted an impromptu spectro-starparty by the hotel pool instead.

Feel free to use this form to contact me!