Los Angeles Fair Exhibitor

Little Big Man Gallery is pleased to present a group show featuring an intimate documentary on photography and works by featured artists: Alex Sturrock, Asger Carlsen, Chardchakaj Waikawee, Dick Jewell, Evan Prosofsky, Fumiko Imano, Hanna Moon, Harley Weir, Hugo Scott, Jack Day, Jamie Hawkesworth, Jack Webb, Juergen Teller, Johnny Dufort, Mark Lebon, Max Fowler, Naima Karlsson, Nobuyoshi Araki, Nick Sethi, Phoebe Collings-James, Sean Vegezzi and Takashi Homma.

More information at littlebigmangallery.com

16 Camera Hacks To Take Flawless Pictures

Since we're living in a world where everything we do, see, eat, drink, love, want (and on and on) are photographed, it's important to make those pics stand out. We're not all professional photographers (despite what our Instagram personas may suggest) and we don't all have the money to buy expensive add-ons and tools of the trade. Check out this list of 16 camera hacks and see what wonderful stuff you can come up with. Move over Annie Leibovitz...

Interview with Architecture photographer Johannes Heuckeroth

Born in 1985, Johannes Heuckeroth is a German designer and photographer specializing in architecture and landscape. 

In 2007, he started teaching himself photography and in 2009 studying design at the Institute of Technology in Nuremberg, from where he graduated in 2012. 

The main essence of his art is an ongoing quest for beauty, which manifests itself in a graphic and aesthetic way in the urban landscape. 

Led by a desire to create and share his own interpretation of reality, he reveals it visually in a more intense and surreal way. With his graduation project, entitled “Dreaming of Dubai ‐ between illusion and reality”, which won the Sony World Photography Award in 2013, Johannes Heuckeroth showed his immense talent by reinterpreting in images the expansion of Dubai, a small desert town that, in the space of a few years, has become a radiant modern metropolis full of utopias.

Johannes Heuckeroth

– How did you get into photography?

The first impulse to getting into photography was the need for documentation. I wanted to document what was happening around me. That was around 14 years ago, when I was 16. I buyed my first camera at this time. It took me another 7 years to get really into it and becoming aware of whats really possible with photography. Today my photography couldn’t be more away from my original intention, it has very little to do with documentation.

– Where do you get your creative inspiration from?

The question is: what is real inspiration? Seeing things around the internet and want to do or photograph it by yourself?
Its really hard these days, because you are flooded with impressions and possibilities. And often its just repetition of existing things. I can’t say whats real inspiration, but I know what I need most: the absolutely will to do something. Currently I find a lot of support through music.

There are a lot of fantastic photographers that had great influence on me. I want to name two specific: 1. Andreas Gursky, because of his unbelievable and unique world of images, that he created. 2.Thomas Birke, he was may be the first who showed me with his images how fascinating cities can be as a subject of photography.

– Which places have been your favourite shooting sites so far and why?

For me its definitely Dubai. This is such an surreal place, a megacity surrounded by the desert, full of potential subjects for photography. A world so full of contrasts,and with a very interesting backstory. I compressed my fascination with this place into a own project: dreaming-of-dubai.com

– Is there any gear in particular that helps you in your architectural photography?

Yeah, definitely, there is some software gear that helps me a lot: panorama software. I often shoot single images on site and combine them afterwards with panorama tools. So its possible to achieve views that cannot produced in camera (or just with very very specific equipment).

– What do you do besides photography?

I am a Designer, which is a great job, because it has a lot of duplications with photography. I work a lot in the field of Corporate Design, which is a combination of graphic and strategic work. But for example I also work on topics like guidelines for corporate photography and think about how images should look for a specific brand. In my personal work its all about aesthetics, while in my job there is also a big focus on function and logic behind the aesthetic.

– What is your favourite photography book?

That would be „Andreas Gursky: 80-08“

– What are your future plans with photography?

Very soon I will publish my new book „Rising New York City“ (http://pfnphoto.com/new/2015/04/rising-new-york-city-my-nyc-book/), showing the best was NYCs skyline has to give. You can pre-order it now. Besides that I am just back from a trip to Shanghai and I am excited to show how this amazing city looked through my lense.

Website: pfnphoto.com

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A 30-Year American Road Trip

It’s summertime, so millions of Americans are gassing up the car, loading up the kids and hitting the highway for that most American of rituals: the road trip. Big skies, roadside attractions and unending byways feature deeply in the national mythology, and in the history of photography, too. For David Graham, exploring the nooks and crannies of this large country has been his life’s work.

Of course, his maiden cross-country voyage wasn’t exactly auspicious.

“I remember that first trip in 1981, going out the Pennsylvania Turnpike in this beat-up VW bus, and I pulled into the left lane and didn’t have the power to pass,” he recalled. “I was stuck between all these tractor-trailers, and they’re blasting their horns. I am freaking out, and I can’t get past them. Can’t pull out. Can’t do anything. Here we are, 30-something years later, and it still is a terrible memory.”

Luckily, he made it to California, where he honed his witty, empathetic style, which developed out of necessity: Film was expensive, and he had little money, so he embedded his pictures with multiple layers of meaning. The resulting images can be seen in a career-spanning exhibition at the Laurence Miller Gallery, through June 26. The photographs depict a broad slice of the country that some might call Americana, although Mr. Graham bristles at the term, believing it to be a coded message for cliché. He prefers to describe pictures as investigations of the American cultural landscape.

Marge. Gapps, Philadelphia. 1979.Credit David Graham, Courtesy of the Laurence Miller Gallery, New York

His personal journey has had a few twists and turns. Like many of us, Mr. Graham took up photography when he discovered he couldn’t draw. A friend returned home from college bearing a sketchbook, and while Mr. Graham was smitten, he knew his limitations. Another photographer was born. He ended up at the Philadelphia College of Art — now called the University of the Arts — studying under Ray Metzker. Mr. Metzker, who died recently, had a great impact on a generation of Philadelphia photographers, and Mr. Graham was no exception.

“We were all trying to be Ray Metzker,” he said. “We had the same kind of camera, the same kind of lens, paper, film and everything. Developer. The works. It was a real influence. I like to jokingly say, though, he forgot to tell us how to make a living. I got out of there and couldn’t do anything but bartend and wait on tables.”

Every great road trip story needs a few coincidences to keep the narrative flowing — like Christie Brinkley popping up poolside in the classic “Vacation” — and Mr. Graham’s tale is no exception. After graduate school, he moved to Newtown, Pa., a Philadelphia suburb just across the Delaware River from New Jersey. While working in a restaurant, tending bar, a colleague, who had himself studied under Walker Evans at Yale, sold him an 8×10 camera that he no longer used.

Around the same time, Mr. Graham was looking at a copy of After Image magazine and noticed a photograph by Emmet Gowin, in which Edith and Elijah Gowin were bathing in a river. It was titled “Newtown, PA.” He rushed to the phone book, looked up Mr. Gowin and realized he was living just down the street.

They became friends, and Mr. Gowin mentored the young photographer. When Mr. Gowin took a sabbatical from his teaching job at Princeton, he was replaced by his friend Jim Dow, who also helped inspire Mr. Graham.

Hallam, Pa. 1989.Credit David Graham, Courtesy of the Laurence Miller Gallery, New York

Mr. Dow, whom Mr. Graham describes as having “Walker Evans’s blood in his veins” as he used to do his printing, had brought with him a trove of slide carousels jammed with images from the history of photography. Mr. Graham spent a year combing through the pictures and emerged with a sense of who he was as an artist and what he wanted to do. To him, what would become a multidecade odyssey across the asphalt ribbons of the country was inevitable (even if that first trip across Pennsylvania was a bear).

Although financial necessity forced him to layer meanings into his frame, so too did his admiration for Mr. Metzker.

“I tried to load as much as possible into each negative,” he said. “I would make photo-historical references, or I would visually comment on resonance between colors, and then shapes and structure that I would have learned from Ray Metzker. Humor was one more thing to put in there. Not every picture had it, but to me, it was a component of the best pictures.”

Through the years, Mr. Graham relied on the radio — from baseball games to programs reciting the price of pork belly futures — to keep him entertained across the many miles. He came to prefer the wide-open spaces of the American West, as the densely packed Eastern landscape made it more difficult to spot potential subjects.

In fact, on his way to Yuma, Ariz., while listening to the classic 1986 World Series between the Mets and the Red Sox, he stumbled upon his most important image. It’s the closing picture in “The History of Dave,” the slide show he occasionally narrates at university lectures.

We see a vast, ochre-hued landscape of buttes and scrub brush. In the foreground, a lonely sign states: “Buy Now, Pay Later.” It seems a perfect a four-word synopsis of capitalism, and our recent Great Recession, as one could hope to capture in celluloid — a harbinger of the Twitter era. (Of course, being thrifty, he shot only one exposure.)

When queried, Mr. Graham agreed that it was emblematic of our current times, although made back when Mookie Wilson’s ground ball trickled between Bill Buckner’s infamous legs.

“Given capitalistic culture, and the late 20th-century, early 21st-century American economy, it’s relevant. It’s been relevant, and it’s going to be relevant. We could think about it also in terms of global warming,” he mused.

“It’s a versatile phrase.”

Jonathan Blaustein / United Photo Press

Save the Freedom of Photography! #saveFoP

On 9 July 2015, the European Parliament might destroy photography.

The Freedom of taking photos in public places is under attack. Until now, in most countries in Europe you were safe to take and publish photographs that are taken from public ground – This is called Freedom of Panorama. When you were on vacation, you could take a photo from the London Eye and share it with your friends on Facebook*. If someone wanted to pay you for using this photo, that was okay as well. But this is about to change may destroy photography as we know it.

Julia Reda, member of the European Parliament, tried to bring the Freedom of Panorama to all countries of the EU, as few countries like France and Italy don’t have such law yet. In the majority of countries such as the UK, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Netherlands, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Austria and Croatia, you’re safe to take, publish and sell photos of public buildings when taken from public grounds.

However, the current draft turned the proposal upside down. Instead of bringing the Freedom of Panorama to the few countries that don’t know such law yet, it would take it away from all those who do. With this, Street-, Travel- and Architecture-Photography would be dead as we know it. It is impossible to find out the architect of every public building in order to ask for permission before you can publish and possibly sell the photo.

I therefore call on the members of the European Parliament to
Not limit the Freedom of Panorama in any way

and instead to
Bring the Freedom of Panorama to all member states of the EU

so that the European Citizens can be assured to act within the law when taking and publishing photographs of public buildings anywhere in the European Union. This is necessary to embrace our European Culture and Art!

In addition to signing the petition, here you can find an exemplary e-mail that you can send to your local representative in the parliament: E-Mail

So far the e-mail is available in English, German, Greek, Italian, Polish, Portuguese and Spanish.

*As Julia Reda, member of the European Parliament, points out, even the private upload of a photograph on Facebook would need the consent of the architect, as with the upload you grant Facebook a license to commercially use the photograph.

For the media requests:

Nico Trinkhaus, Freelance Travel Photographer and Founder of PhotoClaim

As a travel photographer I try to capture the landmarks of the world in the best light, to motivate as many people as possible to start travelling and exploring cultures. This wouldn't be possible without the Freedom of Panorama. Since I'm working as a photographer all over Europe, I also know the disadvantages of the still not completely harmonized copyright law in the EU. To protect photographers rights, I started PhotoClaim, a service that helps photographers to enforce their rights in the other European countries. Photography as an art must be able to capture the beauty and culture of the world, without the photographer being afraid to break the law.

WHY MIAMI IS THE MOST AMERICAN CITY IN THE UNITED STATES | Is Miami as American as apple pie? We think so.

How do you define the United States? Well, technically by our borders and a complex set of laws that govern it, but it's really so much more. It's the land of opportunity, of hard work, and the American dream, and dammit we think Miami exemplifies those as well as or better than any other city in this country.

So get ready to celebrate Fourth of July in the most American city in this country. Here's why: 

The United States Is the Country of Immigrants, and Miami Is the City of Immigrants 
America is a land of immigrants, and Miami's population happens to have the highest percentage of immigrants of any major city in the world. We're a modern testament to the idea that people can still come to America, work hard, succeed, and better the community in the process. Heck, 35 years ago when Miami was going through its biggest immigration wave, people thought the new arrivals would ruin the city. Today, we're a certified Alpha-Global City, a hub of international trade, art and culture, and better than ever. 

And Yet, Like America, Our Melting Pot Can Still Remain Stubbornly Divided 
Miami, like America at large, is a melting pot, but both are imperfect melting pots with the stove sometimes set at low. We're getting there, but American history shows it's never been a quick process. 

We Have Entrepreneurial Spirit 
Carol City's own Rick Ross burst onto the scene with anthem to hustlin' everyday, and that's no mistake. The Kaufmann Foundation lists Miami as the fifth most entrepreneurial city in America (and that's only counting the above the table stuff *cough* *cough*). 

We're the Most Important Big City in Presidential Elections 
Democracy is the foundation of America, and every four years during America's most important democratic event, we're center stage.

Miami-Dade is the biggest county in America's biggest swing state, which means every candidate has to pay extra special attention to us. Cities like San Francisco, Dallas, New York, Boston, New Orleans, Los Angeles and Chicago can be counted on to do what they do, and in today's climate of guaranteed red and blue states, candidates take that for granted. But not Miami. Both parties candidates are guaranteed to be here multiple times through any election courting our votes. It's no wonder that we have two candidates running for president this year who call Miami home.

A statue of Julia Tuttle in Bayfront Park.
Photo by Phillip Pessar / United Photo Press

We're the Only Major American City Founded by a Woman 
America has been talking about the ideals of equality since its founding, but it's still on a long, tough road to truly get there. Of course, even when the law said they couldn't, the oppressed have always found ways to contribute to the country. Julia Tuttle couldn't technically vote to found the city of Miami. Women didn't have the right to vote at that time, but she was the biggest mover and shaker in turning this plot of land into an actual town. She singlehandedly convinced Henry Flagler to extend his railway to Miami, and then pushed for incorporation. Today, we recognize her as our founder. 

Santeria Reminds Us of the True Freedoms of Religion 
Does freedom of religion mean that laws should be enacted based on your own personal religious beliefs, and things that go against them should be outlawed? No. No it does not. Does it mean that the government can't pass laws against your ability to openly practice your religion, even if that religion involves the occasional ceremonial decapitation of animals? Yes. Yes it does. 

Our Influence on the World
After World War II, America has emerged as a true world power whose influence is felt all around the world. Miami, of course, is the hub between America and the entire continent of South America, not to mention the Caribbean.

We're Really Patriotic
The second most patriotic in the whole country, actually, according to Amazon.com

We Have the Only Perfect Record in the Modern NFL 
What's more American than football? Not much. What do Americans love more than winning? Not much. Guess who has the only undefeated season in modern NFL history? The 1972 Miami Dolphins. Yeah, we're gonna include that. Let's not also forget that we're the birthplace of many of America's finest athletes in America's finest sport.

66 surfers ride 1 surfboard, setting world record in Huntington Beach

Crowds in Huntington Beach watch from the pier as surf champions, celebrities and locals break the Guinness record for most people on a surfboard (66). (Allen J. Schaben)
Sixty-six surfers. One giant surfboard. And a new world record.

The group made history in Huntington Beach on Saturday when they set the record for the most people ever to ride a longboard -- 42 feet long, 11 feet wide, to be exact. Hundreds of spectators cheered them on from the nearby pier.

"You guys were officially amazing," said Michael Empric, adjudicator for Guinness World Records.

To earn the title, the surfers had to stand on the 1,300-pound surfboard for at least 10 seconds while riding a wave.

"Welcome to the Guinness world record holder family," Empric told the surfers.

Some officials believe the riders – including professional surfing stars and local surfers and officials – managed to stay on the board close to 15 seconds.

It must still be determined whether the board also set a record for being the world's largest.

Gray skies didn't dampen the enthusiasm of the crowd.

"I'm not nervous, I'm excited," said Assemblyman Travis Allen (R-Huntington Beach), who joined the gathering at the pier. Around him, surfers and spectators eyed the giant board as it was taken to the ocean.

"We're Surf City, USA. Where else would this be happening?" said Jim Katapodis, Huntington Beach mayor pro tem. This is "great for Huntington Beach."

This is the second time the record for the most surfers on a board has been surpassed at Huntington Beach. In 2005, 60 surfers rode a 39-foot board that was on display in the city during the U.S. Open of Surfing, beating the record set earlier that year in Australia by 47 surfers on the same board. But Guinness officials were not present for the Huntington effort, so it was never officially recorded.

Huntington Beach residents Ed Fosmire and his daughter Lily were among the spectators gathered on the pier.

"We heard about the event when we got an announcement on our water bill," Fosmire said. "It seemed really cool to be able to witness a record being broken."

Preparation for the event took more than a year. The original plan by the city's visitors bureau was to have the board ready for last year's official 100th anniversary of surfing in Huntington Beach. But the project was pushed back due to budget constraints.

The 16-inch-thick fiberglass board, which cost an estimated $70,000 to $90,000, was designed by Australian board maker Nev Hyman and cut by Rhode Island-based engineering company MouldCAM.

It arrived in Orange County in two pieces and was assembled by Santa Ana-based boat builder Westerly Marine.

"I'm so proud of Huntington Beach and everybody that put this together," Mayor Jill Hardy said. "It's been a great day and a great kickoff to summer."


Frankie Knuckles, the godfather of house, in 2003.
The origins and ownership of the term "house music" have been hotly debated since, well, always. House music is a lot things to a lot of people. It's disco's revenge. It's a feeling. It's controllable desire you can own.

While house can still be a little elusive, it's like the Supreme Court's definition of pornography: You'll know it when you hear it. House was born in Chicago from a meeting of late '70 and early '80s technology — synths, drum machines, difficult-to-program sequencers and samplers — and the people using it — mostly black, often queer working-class men and women. Classic Chicago house is sought out for its soulful and unapologetic rawness, a far cry from the swaths of antiseptic house available today on Beatport. As much of modern music tries to scrub out any imperfections, classic house openly embraces its limitations and blemishes.

This is a primer for new jacks, albeit an incomplete one, as 100 other records could qualify for this list. It's a cheat sheet for people who discovered dance music through mainstream EDM, pop, or Jamie xx and are curious to learn where this music comes from.

10. Jesse Saunders, "On and On" (1984)
"On and On" is widely considered to be the first proper house record. It starts with screams and maniacal laughter, then oozes along, with a healthy dose of reverb and twinkly synths as a top line, never quite fully banging into a typical hands-in-the-air crescendo the way we've come to expect from a house record. But it's evidence that house has never been singular. It can be many things. "On and On" is a gauzy 4 a.m. jam to bridge night into morning.

9. Marshall Jefferson, "Move Your Body" (1986)
The stomping live piano intro is cited as the first time live pianos were used in house music, a trend that would rage on into the '90s and beyond. Marshall Jefferson is 55 years old and still going strong on the club and festival circuit.

8. Farley "Jackmaster" Funk feat. Darryl Pandy, "Love Can't Turn Around" (1986)This is part cover, part reinterpretation of the Isaac Hayes track "I Can't Turn Around," which was also covered by Steve "Silk" Hurley (Farley's roommate at the time). Darryl Pandy is an absolute beast on this track, and it was the first house single to break into the U.K. singles chart.
7. The House Master Boyz and the Rude Boy of House, "House Nation" (1986)Another Farley "Jackmaster" Funk, credited to his alias, the House Master Boyz. "Hu-Hu-Hu-Hu-Hu-Hu-House Nation" is pretty much all you need to get sucked into a hypnotic, liminal space of dance-floor bewilderment and enlightenment.
6. Fingers Inc., "Can You Feel It?" (1988)Fingers Inc. was a Chicago house supergroup featuring Larry Heard (AKA Mr. Fingers), Robert Owens, and Ron Wilson. In "Can You Feel It?" they made what might just be a perfect record. The preacher vocals, the alien bass line, the cracking drums. It would become a blueprint for deep house, its moodiness and melancholia trumping its hedonism. It has been copied, again and again and again, with varying degrees of success.
5. Joe Smooth, "Promised Land" (1986)On the other end of the tonal spectrum, Joe Smooth's "Promised Land" is an uplifting, spiritual anthem about rising above the horrible realities of inner-city life in the Reagan years, but its themes are universal. Perfect for closing out any set and sending the punters home filled with euphoric warm fuzzies.
4. Phuture, "Acid Tracks" (1987)This is the track often cited as kickstarting acid house, house's darker, extraterrestrial, squelch-laden offshoot (which deserves its own primer). Phuture was made up of Spanky, Herb J, and DJ Pierre, and Pierre is still active as ever on the club and festival circuit.
3. Adonis, "No Way Back" (1986)"No Way Back" wastes no time diving into its bouncy, wonky bass line. It's been called dystopian and fatalist. Adonis Smith also provided the deadpan vocals, which are simultaneously off-putting and body-jacking. The record was a huge commercial hit for Trax Records, Chicago's most visible house imprint, which originally released most of the tracks on this list.
2. Ron Hardy, "Sensation" (1985)Hardy was the Chicago house scene's loose cannon. He played fast, aggressive, and loud. His reel-to-reel edits inspired decades of DJs trying to re-create an edit they once heard at the Muzic Box, his stomping ground, which had a walloping sound system. He burned hard and bright, eventually dying of a heroin overdose in 1992. "Sensation" is one of the few records he made that was released in his lifetime. Play the long version.
1. Frankie Knuckles and Jamie Principle, "Your Love" (1987)Frankie Knuckles was the undisputed godfather of house music and its ambassador to the world. Knuckles cut his teeth in New York before moving to Chicago to run the Warehouse, where his elegant, tasteful take on house influenced several generations of future producers, DJs, and dancers. He's put out countless 12-inches and remixes, toured the world many times over, and had a street in Chicago named after him. Sadly, he passed away last year at age 59. This masterpiece is probably his best-known track, and rightfully so.

Tokyo International Photography Festival

Extended Deadline: June 29, 2015

However, after receiving many emails and speaking with so many of you over the last few hours, we have decided to extend the submission deadline to June 29 at 12PM (PDT), due to the high volume of visitors to the submission site.

For those of you who have already completed your submission, no further action is required at this time, and we look forward to reviewing your work in the coming weeks.

As always, thank you for your support, and we hope to see you in October at the 1st Tokyo International Photography Festival - launching October 9, 2015!

The winners of the 3rd edition of the Tokyo International Photography Competition will be presented in a traveling exhibition across 4 continents:

United Photo Industries Gallery in Brooklyn, NY

Head On Photo Festival 2016 in Sydney, Australia

In addition, the competition's Grand Prix Winner will receive:

▪ All-expenses-paid trip to participate in the Tokyo International Photography Festival

▪ Double-page feature in PHaT PHOTO magazine

▪ Feature Announcement in the British Journal of Photography Online

▪ Special Feature in LensCulture

What does it mean to be human? For Sartre, it meant freedom and responsibility – the freedom to choose, the responsibility to act and define one’s place in life. Irvin Yalom gave us the four “givens” of existence: meaning, loneliness, freedom, and mortality.

The Human Condition is our eternal search for purpose, but also our capacity for good – and evil. It is kinship, honor, our thirst for knowledge, the pursuit of happiness – but just as often it is the harbinger of pain, death, betrayal, war, the deception of ourselves and of others.

At a time of increased uncertainty and tension on both the inter-personal and global stages, photography’s role in helping us negotiate our daily existence has never been stronger.

For our third edition, we ask you to share with us an unflinching view of what it means to be human.


A big thank you to all those who came out to Our/Berlin to see the Identity exhibition, featuring the winning photographs of the2014 Tokyo International Photo Competition and to share in some celebratory shots (and we mean many shots!) of vodka!

Hosted by our friends at EyeEm andOur/Berlin in cooperation with the Tokyo Institute of Photography and United Photo Industries, it was so amazing to see such a huge turn out to view the work of Lydia Goldblatt, Shandor Barcs, Albarran Cabrera, Maja Daniels, David Favrod, Adam Reynolds, Miki Takahashi, Erini 

How to weigh the Milky Way

Researchers use stars to infer mass of Milky Way
What if your doctor told you that your weight is somewhere between 100 and 400 lbs.? With any ordinary scale every patient can do better at home. Yet, one patient can't: the Milky Way. Even though today we peer deeper into space than ever before, our home galaxy's weight is still unknown to about a factor of four. Researchers at Columbia University's Astronomy Department have now developed a new method to give the Milky Way a more precise physical checkup.

The Milky Way consists of roughly 100 billion stars that form a huge stellar disk with a diameter of 100-200 thousand light years. The Sun is part of this structure, hence, when we look into the sky, we look right into a gigantic disk of stars. The vast number of stars and the huge extent on the sky make it hard to measure fundamental quantities for the Milky Way, such as its weight.

An international team of scientists led by Columbia University researcher Andreas Küpper used stars outside this disk, which orbit around the Milky Way in a stream-like structure, to weigh the Milky Way to high precision. In a new study published in The Astrophysical Journal, the team demonstrates that such streams, produced by dissolving globular clusters, can be used to measure not only the weight of our Galaxy, but can also be exploited as yardsticks to determine the location of the Sun within the Milky Way.

"Globular clusters are compact groups of thousands to several millions of stars that were born together when the universe was still very young," said Küpper. "They orbit around the Milky Way and slowly disintegrate over the course of billions of years, leaving a unique trace behind. Such star streams stick out from the rest of the stars in the sky as they are dense and coherent, much like contrails from airplanes easily stick out from regular clouds."

The researchers used data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, which scanned the sky of the Northern Hemisphere for about 10 years to create a comprehensive catalog of stars in the sky. The stream they tested the new technique on was produced by a globular cluster named Palomar 5, and had already been discovered in 2001 high above the Galactic disk. Eduardo Balbinot, coauthor on the current study from the University of Surrey in England, revisited the Sloan data and detected density wiggles in the stream of Palomar 5.

"We found the wiggles to be very pronounced and regularly spaced along the stream," said Balbinot. "Such variations cannot be random."

It is these wiggles that allow the researchers to gain the unprecedented precision of their measurement. Using the Yeti supercomputer of Columbia University, they created several million models of the stream in different realizations of the Milky Way. From these models and from comparing the wiggle pattern of the models to the observations, they were able to infer the mass of the Milky Way within a radius of 60,000 light years to be 210 billion times the mass of the Sun with an uncertainty of only 20 percent. The unique pattern of the density wiggles helped significantly to rule out models of the Milky Way, which were either too heavy or too skinny.

"An important advance in this work was using robust statistical tools - the same ones used to study changes in the genome and employed by internet search engines to rank websites," explained Ana Bonaca, a coauthor from Yale University. This rigorous approach helped in achieving the high precision in weighing the Milky Way."

"Such measurements have been tried before with different streams, but the results were always quite ambiguous," added Professor Kathryn Johnston, coauthor of the study and chair of the Columbia Astronomy Department. "Our new measurement breaks these ambiguities by exploiting the unique density pattern that Palomar 5 created as it orbited around the Milky Way for the past 11 billion years."

In the future, the researchers aim to use more structures like the Palomar 5 stream to gain an even higher precision and to create the most realistic model of the Milky Way to date. From the improved precision the scientists hope to learn about the formation and composition of our home galaxy, and to understand how the Milky Way compares with other galaxies in the Universe. So far, the results indicate that the Milky Way is a healthy patient - neither too skinny nor too heavy for its size.


Lead author of the study "Globular Cluster Streams as Galactic High-Precision Scales - the Poster Child Palomar 5", Andreas Küpper, is a Hubble Fellow at the Astronomy Department of Columbia University. The Hubble Fellowship grants are awarded by the Space Telescope Science Institute, which is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., for NASA.

INTERVIEW: Boyan Slat, Teenage Inventor of the Ocean Cleanup Array

Last year, inventor Boyan Slat made waves by designing an “Ocean Cleanup Array” which he claimed could remove 72.5 million tons of plastic from the world’s oceans. Although his idea received criticism from some quarters, a year-long feasibility study concluded that the idea will work. 

Not just that—it could potentially remove half the plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch within a decade. The last 12 months have been a whirlwind for the young inventor; he’s given talks around the world and conducted tests in The Azores. We sat down with Boyan Slat to ask him about his inspiration, dealing with criticism and what the future holds for the Ocean Cleanup Array.

You’re 19 years old—how did you get started with your ocean cleanup project?

SLAT: When I was 16 years old, I was diving in Greece and suddenly I realized I came across more plastic bags than fish in the ocean. For my high school science project I then dedicated half a year to understanding the problem itself, and why floating ocean plastic is so difficult to clean up. I’d always been interested in engineering, and then came up with a concept of how I thought we could feasibly clean theocean garbage patches. In October of 2012 I presented this idea at a TEDx conference, and then spent several months with professors and industry experts, compiling a list of 50 questions that should be answered in order to confirm feasibility. One year ago the idea suddenly went viral on the internet, which enabled me to raise funds and assemble a team of 100 people, which whom I’ve now published an extensive study indicating the concept’s feasibility.

Can you summarize in a nutshell, to a non-technical layperson, how your Ocean Cleanup Array works?

SLAT: In the past there have been many concepts aimed at cleaning plastic from the oceans, but these were all based on vessels with nets, that would fish for plastic. Not only would this take billions of dollars and 79,000 years, but it would also create by-catch and emissions. Not a very attractive proposal. Furthermore the plastic rotates in the areas where the plastic concentrates, so it does not stay in one spot. So I wondered; why move through the oceans, if the oceans can move through you? I came up with a passive system of floating barriers that is attached to the seabed, and oriented in a V-shape. The barriers first catch, and then concentrate the plastic, enabling a platform to efficiently extract the plastic once it arrives in the center of the V.

How did you feel about the level of support your Cleanup Array received from around the world last year?

SLAT: Since in our opinion the attention was slightly premature, we immediately decided to put all media requests on hold, eventually totaling about 400 of them. On the plus side though, it enabled us to assemble a team to get the feasibility research going.

Were you likewise surprised at the level of criticism you received? And did you feel that at any point, people were being overly critical because of your age?

SLAT: I did expect this to happen. This is something I call the “inventor’s dilemma”. To further develop an idea, you are forced to do some communication: setting up a webpage, talking to people, etc., but with the risk it gets picked up by the media, and you get criticized by peers because it is just an idea. I do not think this was related to my age per se. What may have had to do with it was the fact that there had been many cleanup proposals in the past years, though all of them based on vessels with nets that would inefficiently fish for plastics. But while those ideas ended with the fancy artist’s impressions, for us that was just the beginning.

What have the past 12 months been like in terms of not only proving your concept, but in gathering a team to help you accomplish this?

SLAT: The managing thing was challenging, I must admit. Especially in the first half of last year there wasn’t a lot of time to be personally involved with the engineering. 100 people are a lot of people, but what made it challenging was that most of them were part-time volunteers, and a proportion is always situated abroad. Our load oceanographer works from Australia, for example.

Your proof of concept tests in the Azores went well. Tell us about the next steps you and your team are taking in the implementation of your feasibility study.

SLAT: The largest test we have done so far was 40 m this March, but in the 3rd (implementation) phase the scale will be 100 km. To bridge this gap, through a series of up-scaled tests we will now work towards a large-scale and operational pilot in 3-4 years’ time. Simultaneous to that we will continue the in-depth engineering and oceanographic field research to further optimize the structure.

What have been the most surprising results you have seen so far in your tests? What were you not expecting to see?

SLAT: I think a good example would be our process engineering work. The quality of the plastics turned out to be much better than expected, lab analyses showed. Even more surprising was that [we could turn the plastic into] oil comparable to what you would expect when using normal waste plastics. But then the (unsorted) plastic even turned out to be suitable for recycling into new materials! To show this, we even made the cover of the feasibility study book out of ocean plastic.

How can we stop the plastic debris problem at the source? Where would you start if you were also working on tackling that problem?

SLAT: There is no single answer to preventing plastic from reaching the oceans. It starts with raising awareness about the existence of the problem. Many people and organizations have aimed to do so in the past decade, and this is also something I hope will be a valuable side-effect of The Ocean Cleanup. However, I don’t think this will be enough to significantly stem the flow of new plastics into the oceans on the short term. Infrastructural improvements, legislation aimed at certain high-risk products like microbeads, and alternative materials are different aspects. The Ocean Cleanup has plans to explore the possibilities of intercepting plastic in rivers before it reaches the oceans in the upcoming phase of the project.

 In one of your talks, you mention how using nets is ineffective against garbage patches such as the one in the Pacific. What do you think people could do in their daily lives to make an impact, apart from use less plastic bags?

In short: making sure no more plastic enters the oceans in the first place. For example, by supporting the different aspects mentioned in question 8.

How can people help support your work?

SLAT: We have now launched a crowd funding campaign, to help raise funds for the testing phase of the project. We aim to raise over two million USD in 100 days through www.theoceancleanup.com. So far we are still on schedule, for which we would like to thank the 15,000 people that backed the campaign so far.

There has been so much disheartening news about ocean pollution in recent years, including images of all manner of sea life being injured (or killed) by stray bits of plastic floating around. The Ocean Cleanup Array could make an enormous impact on the health and well-being of the oceans (and sea life within them), and can also encourage us to be far more diligent about the plastic items we use and discard,and the garbage we create in general. Each and every one of us can help to keep trash out of the ocean. What measures have you taken to reduce your own household waste? Please let us know in the comments section below!