Feeds

Backyard astronomer snaps Beta Pictoris dust disk

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

Business security measures using SSL

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. ®

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

More from The Register

next story
SCREW YOU, Russia! NASA lobs $6.8bn at Boeing AND SpaceX to run space station taxis
Musk charging nearly half as much as Boeing for crew trips
PORTAL TO ELSEWHERE scried in small galaxy far, far away
Supermassive black hole dominates titchy star formation
Boffins say they've got Lithium batteries the wrong way around
Surprises at the nano-scale mean our ideas about how they charge could be all wrong
Edge Research Lab to tackle chilly LOHAN's final test flight
Our US allies to probe potential Vulture 2 servo freeze
Europe prepares to INVADE comet: Rosetta landing site chosen
No word yet on whether backup site is labelled 'K'
Cracked it - Vulture 2 power podule fires servos for 4 HOURS
Pixhawk avionics juice issue sorted, onwards to Spaceport America
City hidden beneath England's Stonehenge had HUMAN ABATTOIR. And a pub
Boozed-up ancients drank beer before tearing corpses apart
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
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.
Protecting users from Firesheep and other Sidejacking attacks with SSL
Discussing the vulnerabilities inherent in Wi-Fi networks, and how using TLS/SSL for your entire site will assure security.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.