Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Stunning Photo of Beta Pictoris Galaxy by Amateur Astronomer

An amateur astronomer captured the shot of his life when he took a picture of forming solar system.

Auckland resident Rolf Olsen is the first amateur astronomer to take pictures of another solar system from his small telescope in his backyard.

Olsen managed to photograph the star Beta Pictoris, which is located 60 light years away.

He only used a 25 cm telescope to capture the image of the distant galaxy.

Beta Pictoris is estimated to be about 12 million years old and is considered a model for what the Milky Way looked like 4.5 billion years ago. It had been previously been photographed by the Hubble Space Telescope.

In the 1980s infrared images of the galaxy revealed that it's surrounded by a flat dust disk. The disk is larger than our solar system and scientists have wanted to capture a picture of it for further study. The only problem is that the star is so bright that it can obscure the dust disk around it.

Rolf managed to get rid of the unwanted light to get a clear picture of Beta Pictoris with the dust disk surrounding it.

Rolf got the idea from an 18-year-old scientific paper from Harvard tiled "Observation of the central part of the beta Pictoris disk with an anti-blooming CCD" that describes how to get an image using similar equipment.

First he took pictures of Beta Pictoris using a camera mounted on his telescope. He then took another batch of pictures of another star, Alpha Pictoris which is similar to Beta Pictoris in brightness and color.

He subtracted the image of the second star to eliminate the glare from Beta Pictoris. Rolf cleaned up the raw subtracted image to make the dust disk easier to see. The result is a clear image of Beta Pictoris with the dust disk surrounding it.

"And the result is, I believe, the first amateur image of another solar system: The protoplanetary disc around Beta Pictoris. I must say it feels really special to have actually captured this," Olsen writes in his website.

The scientific community has been quick to laud Olsen's effort.

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