University of Hawaiʻi Photographer R. David Beales’ December 2009 image of the Keck Observatory using its laser guide star on Mauna Kea was named Best in Show in competition of the University Photographers Association of America.
Keck II was the first large telescope to employ adaptive optics, using a bright guide star to measure atmospheric distortions in order to get clearer images of more distant objects. When guide stars aren’t available, astronomers create their own, using a special purpose laser to excite sodium atoms in the atmosphere above Earth.
But it was a natural phenomenon that gave Beales’ photo its special quality. “A thunderstorm was raging in the valley below us,” Beales recalls in the caption for the UPAA competition. “Normally this is a very beautiful place but the lightning added an extra element to this photo. No Photoshop.”