Feeds

Backyard astronomer snaps Beta Pictoris dust disk

Kiwi claims ‘first amateur’ to catch exo-solar system

Security for virtualized datacentres

Stars on webcam 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 too strong for the very weak light reflected from its surrounding dust to show.

According to the photographer, Ralf Olsen, shots of the disk such as are taken by the Hubble Space Telescope “are usually made by physically blocking out the glare of Beta Pictoris itself within the optical path.”

Olsen, on the other hand, had a much more mundane 25 cm telescope to work with, and a Philips ToUCam Pro webcam modified for long exposures.

The dust, clearly visible in the photograph once the star is removed, is though to represent a solar system in the very early stages of development – before big accretions like planets have formed.

Having found an article at Harvard, Observation of the central part of the Beta Pictoris disk with an anti-blooming CCD, Olsen decided that it might be possible to capture the shot he wanted without access to the Hubble (or a large enough surface observatory).

“I followed the technique described in the paper above, which basically consists of imaging Beta and then taking another image of a similar reference star under the same conditions. The two images are subtracted from each other to eliminate the stellar glare, and the dust disc should then hopefully reveal itself”, Olsen writes.

"The more images you can taken the clearer result you'll get. It's about being patient," he told Fairfax in New Zealand. "It takes hours."

And it appears to have worked: with a large collection of images of Beta Pictoris, plus Alpha Pictoris as the “reference” star, along with the free Registax tool and Photoshop’s “difference” mode, revealed the planetary disk with the star subtracted.

For those that want the fine detail, or would like to have a crack at it themselves, as well as a larger view of the image, Olsen’s blog is here. He believes he is the first amateur to capture an image of another solar system, and if he’s right, he’s quite entitled to feel “really special”, as he writes. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
SECRET U.S. 'SPACE WARPLANE' set to return from SPY MISSION
Robot minishuttle X-37B returns after almost 2 years in orbit
LOHAN crash lands on CNN
Overflies Die Welt en route to lively US news vid
America's super-secret X-37B plane returns to Earth after nearly TWO YEARS aloft
674 days in space for US Air Force's mystery orbital vehicle
'Utter killjoy Reg hacks have NEVER BEEN LAID', writes a fan
'Shuddit, smarty pants!' Some readers reacted badly to our last Doctor Who review ...
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
Carry On Cosmonaut: Willful Child is a poor taste Star Trek parody
Cringeworthy, crude and crass jokes abound in Steven Erikson’s sci-fi debut
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Win a year’s supply of chocolate
There is no techie angle to this competition so we're not going to pretend there is, but everyone loves chocolate so who cares.
Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.