back to article Backyard astronomer snaps Beta Pictoris dust disk

In what is being hailed as a first, a New Zealand amateur backyard astronomer has produced images of the protoplanetary disk surrounding a star that’s 63.4 light-years distant - on a webcam. Beta Pictoris, a star that’s dated at just 12 million years ago – a whippersnapper, really – is easy enough to capture, but its light is …

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Boffin

I wonder...

What can this technique, applied to Hubble deep field scope, can let us see?

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Facepalm

Oh God, the horror

Couldn't he have used a slightly less awful font?

Sure, he should be applauded for a job well done, but the font, oh my giddy aunt, the font.

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Papyrus...

The thinking man's Comic Sans!

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Optional Title

I quite like the font....

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Good lord, whine much?

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@BoldMan

Not really, I'm just a font whore.

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Optional title here please

I quite like the font....

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Pint

Hang the font!

That is one cool piece of astrophotography! Outstanding!

I will raise a glass to that

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Trollface

Do you think they have better...

....fonts in other star systems?

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Wow....

Just wow. Thats really a very good picture for a tesco telescope and a cheap webcam.

How much did hubble cost?

Hats off to the chap (but shame about the font).

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Tesco telescope?

I really doubt you will find a tesco telescope at 25 cm of aperture! That's some serious amount of resolving power!

As for the guy who commented about the font, missed technical marvel achieved by this guy and all you could notice is the font?

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Not as much as you might think

The Sky-Watcher Skyliner 250PX 10" (25cm) Dobsonians are very highly regarded. Yours for around £470.

http://www.opticalvision.co.uk/astronomical_telescopes/sky-watcher/dobsonians/skyliner-250px

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Bronze badge

Tesco? Do you have the first clue about scopes? Even the most basic 10" scope would probably cost somewhere the far side of two grand. Many a keen amateur would be happy to spend the thick end of ten grand on such a scope. We're not talking Toys 'R' Us here.

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Pint

before you start bitching about NASA's spending...

...consider that the HST captures its high-quality imagery by operating outside the atmosphere, with a really stonking-assed huge scope. It's designed to look damn' near back to the beginning of the Universe, capturing images in pants-wetting detail.

The guy in NZ was using a standard consumer -- or perhaps "prosumer" -- telescope and a commercially-available webcam... which, of course, means that his Beta Pectoris image is made of awesome, ranking right up there with that French guy who takes those gorgeous images of the Shuttle and ISS in orbit.

And, yeah, I noticed that the headline font is an overly-frilly one which I see frequenly headlining astronomical images -- including releases from the HST team -- but somehow, considering the meaty, beefy, juicy, tasty goodness of the NZ image, I just can't get that worked up about the goddamn' font.

A pint of Good Bastards Dark for our amateur astonomical hero.

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Bronze badge

Your point is valid, but saying "The guy in NZ was using a standard consumer -- or perhaps "prosumer" -- telescope and a commercially-available webcam..." is somewhat wide of the mark. He custom built his own scope at considerable expense. Certainly well above the consumer level.

BTW there's nothing more meaningless than the term prosumer. Plenty of amateurs in all sorts of fields use proper professional level equipment. It just depends on their budget.

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Silver badge

thanks, I stand corrected

"Your point is valid, but saying 'The guy in NZ was using a standard consumer -- or perhaps "prosumer" -- telescope and a commercially-available webcam...' is somewhat wide of the mark. He custom built his own scope at considerable expense. Certainly well above the consumer level."

Thanks; I stand corrected. That totally got by me.

"BTW there's nothing more meaningless than the term prosumer. Plenty of amateurs in all sorts of fields use proper professional level equipment. It just depends on their budget."

Good point. I was fishing about for a term denoting high-quality equipment a cut above consumer-grade but not necessarily professional grade, and all I could come up with was "prosumer" (actually, I'm not that nuts about it, either).

Of course, by the same token, there are lots of people with professional training stuck working on thin budgets who manage to turn in top-quality work with as nothing more than a Sanyo Xacti, a handheld MP3 recorder and FinalCut Pro.

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the TouCam Pro

is really an astonishing piece of kit. The SPC9x series even more so. Why Phillips made them with such incredibly sensitive CCDs in, nobody will ever know. But when you can pick one up for a tenner of fleabay and tape a film canister with an IR cut filter to the front, you can manage some rather impressive astrophotograpy. Mod it a bit further for long exposure and you can achieve truly stunning results on deepsky objects. It's one of the few aspects of home astronomy which doesn't have to cost a bleedin' fortune.

Celestron sell a reboxed Philips webcam for some £120 just 'cos it has a 1.5" tube and a Celestron logo on the case.

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Bronze badge

You're right the SCP900 is impressive, but I've never seen one for a tenner on ebay or even particularly close.

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And to think I spent the equivalent of 6 months pay on gear and I have never taken such an impressive astrophoto! I feel like bashing my head in for spending $1500 on my SBIG CCD camera after seeing this.

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Bronze badge

He may have used a cheap camera, but the scope is more important and it doesn't sound like he scrimped there.

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Windows

"It takes hours"

He aint joking.

Friend of mine, businessman, also amateur astrononomer, took a webcam apart, stuck the ccd on the eyepiece of a Newtonian telescope, and 'shot' the moon with about 100 or so snaps.

On his PC, rearranged the images manually, printed them on A3 paper.

The result was spectacular!

He told me it took a week to do it.

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He's got some seriously clear skies to manage that.

He made the scope as well.

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Anonymous Coward

Don't want to spoil the party, but...

He took multiple pictures of this star and a similar star.

He overlaid and took away one image from another.

He then cleaned it up so you could see the disk.

Those blobs could just be an combination of pixel saturation, optical aberration or even dust on the lens. Or even a by product of the large amount of photoshoppery involved

Not to say he's being dishonest, he's just seeing what he wanted to see.

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Bronze badge

You're missing the point, Mr Coward. Experts have looked at his images and praised them. It's not just him saying they're great images, they are causing a huge buzz in the astronical world.

What qualifies you to comment.

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Bronze badge

Kiwi?

I love the way the linked story refers to him as a Kiwi in the headline. In the story he becomes a "New Zealand man" and an "Aucklander". Only in the very last line do they grudgingly admit that the man is actually Danish.

With a name like Rolf Olson who'd a thunk it?

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Windows

Winter comes...

..is it time to grind another mirror? 10 or 12 inch this time?

It takes bloody ages - 2 months of evenings - pushing and turning one piece of glass with gradations of grinding paste against another (One goes convex, the other concave - which is the one you want).

Then, send the upper glass off to be silvered. Meanwhile, you make the tube, buy the reflecting mirror, fit eyepiece...

Yep, making a telescope is an effort. Mercifully, we no longer have to use "Speculum Metal" as Herschel (Discoverer of Uranus) had to.

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Anonymous Coward

A 10 inch f/5 is not an expensive instrument, I bought a secondhand 12-inch f/5 for £330 in 2008. I don't know how good the mirror is though, a top one could cost you thousands (if it's a Zambuto) but f/5 is not considered too tricky. An f/3 would be (like the f/2.8 Powernewt). Still, definitely not Tesco or Tasco.

I have a ToUCam Pro that I modified for long exposure myself, according to the Steve Chambers recipe. It cost £35 on ebay. The modification is a bit fiddly as the wires are tiny but you only need some resistors and ICs and soldering skills. One can even go to mod "SC3" which involves changing the colour chip for an even more sensitive mono one.

If you google "deep sky webcam" you will see the kind of images people get with that setup.

It's perfectly reasonable to question the processing but it seems to me that if it were a fake it would easily be demonstrated to be so. There are many stars one can repeat the experiment on and check whether you are seeing an artefact or a real object. We usually take a whole bunch of calibration frames (flats, darks, bias) to remove any optical or electronic artefacts. Beyond that, the more data you have, the better the statistics and the more detail you can tease out. The other enemy is the sky, it needs to be as dark as possible if you're going to capture very faint detail. In that he was probably lucky to be where he is. Besides, Pictor is not visible from the UK.

People have been detecting transiting exoplanets with just a DSLR and a camera lens for years now. It is quite amazing, really.

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Anonymous Coward

Ok, it turns that Mr Olsen is the wizard of modified webcam imaging. Check this out:

http://www.pbase.com/rolfolsen/image/125937688

All his images are taken with this £40 webcam which is only 640x480, 8bit.

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Bronze badge

All of which goes to show that the camera is the least important bit of the setup and yet I know many backyard astrophotographers who scrimp on their scope in order to spend money on their camera.

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More info on Beta Pictoris

http://exoplanet.eu/star.php?st=beta%20Pic#a_publi

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