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'Amateur' Astronomer Snaps Pic of Planet-Forming Disk

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the getting-the-most-out-of-your-tools dept.

Space 59

The Bad Astronomer writes "Rolf Olsen, an 'amateur' astronomer in New Zealand, took an amazing photo of a disk of material around the star Beta Pictoris, the first time this has been seen outside of professional observatories. Incredibly, he snagged it with just a 25 cm (10") telescope! A comparison with an earlier pic from a much larger observatory indicates he nailed it, making this a milestone for amateur astronomy."

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59 comments

Why the quotes around amateur? (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38176070)

Either he's a professional astronomer, or he's not. Or is this like an 'amateur' porn star?

Re:Why the quotes around amateur? (1)

zippthorne (748122) | more than 2 years ago | (#38176138)

Maybe he's both?

Re:Why the quotes around amateur? (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38176846)

Both astronomer and porn star? What are the odds?

Re:Why the quotes around amateur? (5, Funny)

theweatherelectric (2007596) | more than 2 years ago | (#38177946)

Both astronomer and porn star? What are the odds?

Astronomical.

Re:Why the quotes around amateur? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38178284)

Asstronomical

Re:Why the quotes around amateur? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38178290)

Both professions have a unique appreciation for Uranus.

Re:Why the quotes around amateur? (1)

Sulphur (1548251) | more than 2 years ago | (#38182144)

Both professions have a unique appreciation for naked stars..

FTFY

Re:Why the quotes around amateur? (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38176148)

A lot of people seem to think amateur astronomers who have even middling-decent astrophotography equipment must not really be amateurs. They should read the CCD imaging forum on www.cloudynights.com, and see what kinds of stuff people really use, and the results they get. Amateur astronomers aren't necessarily pros, or rich, but they invest their money differently. For the price of a good stereo, or home theater, or at the higher end a used car, you can get a really good set of astrophotography equipment.

In my mind, it's sort of a bias of perception against scientific hobbyists, whether they go for astronomy, or robotics, etc.

Re:Why the quotes around amateur? (3, Informative)

History's Coming To (1059484) | more than 2 years ago | (#38176446)

I got a shot of Jupiter and three of the moons using a £120 telescope with a camera-phone held against the eyepiece. Most of the investment goes into time though...setting up a mid-range telescope with a webcam and stacking software can be done for ~£500 including the computer and (FOSS) software, but it's going to take tens or (more likely) hundreds of hours to get really good results. "Amateur" in this context simply refers whether anyone is paying you for those hours.

Re:Why the quotes around amateur? (2)

Ogi_UnixNut (916982) | more than 2 years ago | (#38176486)

Nice! As someone who would really like to get into Astrophotography, you got any recommendations where to start? I already do photography (so I have a DSLR I can use) but not sure what would be a good starter telescope, and what else I'd need (what stacking software do you use? Is it OSS?).

Re:Why the quotes around amateur? (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38178622)

If you already have a strong telephoto in your kit, try that first. A 300mm zoom lens used with a DSLR actually has enough power to resolve Jupiter's moons. I tried it just for giggles. (Also because I heard typical off-the-shelf binoculars were powerful enough. So why not my zoom lens?) My results were fuzzy as hell (and over-exposed if anything), but it worked. Jupiter and two of its larger moons were distinctively separate objects. (Moving and repositioning the camera and lens between shots ruled out artifacts and noise. Jupiter and the moons were consistent between shots.) I could likely get even better results if I had a steadier tripod and spent a bit more time adjusting the exposure. I'll probably never a crisp picture this way, but this is pushing the limits of what the gear is intended for and there's also atmospheric distortion. (Still it's enough to make out the planetary disk and little dots of moons, and with a bit more dedication - work out their orbital periods. I'd consider the quality comparable to what Galileo was working with back in the Renaissance era.)

With a DSLR you might not need the stacking software either. Camera phones tend to have a limited exposure range and ISO equivalency, as where your DSLR can go high ISO and use multi-second exposures or even bulb mode. (But high ISO settings usually tend to get hot and noisy fast, just stick with longer exposures.)

If you want more than that, of course you'll need better (and dedicated) gear. But the point is to not overlook what you may have already if you're just starting out.

Re:Why the quotes around amateur? (1)

Ogi_UnixNut (916982) | more than 2 years ago | (#38180952)

Hey, thanks for the response!

Unfortunately I don't have a strong telephoto in my kit, as I have yet not needed to get one. Now the question is really, should I buy a telephoto (which I could use for other shots if needed) or should I buy a telescope. I will need to get one or the other it seems. A good telephoto will cost me a £few_hundred, so it would be good to know what kind of telescope I can get for the same money.

It is good to know you can resolve Jupiter like that! I'll have to try it when I have a go next time (be it with lens or telescope).

The main reason I wanted the stacking software is because while my SLR can do both high ISO and long exposures, high noise I don't like, and I'm limited in long-exposure to about 15 seconds max. Anything more and everything becomes blurred (due to the earths motion, I never realised how fast the earths movement is until I tried taking 30 second exposures of sky objects).

So my options are either: (a) buy a proper motorised equitorial mount or (b) take multiple higher-iso, shorter exposure shots, and stack them together.

Option (b) seemed like the cheaper option (plus I already have all the kit needed, apart from the software), hence my question. Is there any other way of taking long-exposure shots without needing a fancy mount? I don't know of any, but will admit that I'm still very new at this...

Re:Why the quotes around amateur? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38190634)

You don't need a zoom lens. In fact, I would suggest getting your feet wet doing some widefield, fixed tripod photography. If you have a lens in the 50mm range, you can do 30s exposures and stack them for some stunning images of the milky way. If you're handy, you could even build yourself a barn door tracker.

Re:Why the quotes around amateur? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38184126)

As a starter learning the sky is the best place to begin; download a copy of stellarium (foss).

Here's generally good advice:
http://www.rocketroberts.com/astro/first.htm

My additional advice is to wait until after christmas and pick up an 'unwanted' gift on ebay or somewhere equivalent. You'd be surprised at what you can pick up.

Also, avoid aperture fever - bigger is not always better! Pick a scope that you'll use. I have two, a 6 inch and a 10 inch, the smaller is used far more frequently due to portability and convenience.

Just for your own interest, many people use registax to stack and process images. Whilst it's free and runs well under wine it is not OSS.

Re:Why the quotes around amateur? (2)

mapkinase (958129) | more than 2 years ago | (#38183024)

"it's sort of a bias of perception against scientific hobbyists"

The bias exists only because the only way hobbyists are getting exposure of their work to wider audience is word of general public. Trust me, perfectly professional scientists who promote their work via newspapers are derided in scientific community as well..

Re:Why the quotes around amateur? (2)

Randle_Revar (229304) | more than 2 years ago | (#38176434)

Anyway what is wrong with amateur? Herschel was an amateur astronomer for many years.

Re:Why the quotes around amateur? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38190640)

In my mind, it's because 'amateur' tends to imply low quality and inferior, which is definitely not the case in 'amateur astronomy'... there are great things being done by amateur astronomers, they're only amateur because they're not getting payed for their works.

In other words, the quotes are there because amateur is being used only for its explicit, not it's implicit meaning...

Re:Why the quotes around amateur? (4, Insightful)

osu-neko (2604) | more than 2 years ago | (#38177084)

You seem to be under the mistaken impression that putting quotes around a word indicates negation, rather than quotation.

I probably read too much BBC News. BBC News headlines are quite funny if you pretend they're using quotation marks the way Americans tend to abuse them.

Re:Why the quotes around amateur? (1)

kubernet3s (1954672) | more than 2 years ago | (#38179980)

The confusion still persists. The word "amateur" is pretty universally accepted as describing a person who practices a pursuit as a hobby, rather than a profession. Is this word coined by the article? No. It would be like an article on Joe Biden beginning "The 'Vice-President' of the 'United States' Joe Biden etc."

Re:Why the quotes around amateur? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38183354)

Could it possibly be because BBC News is British, and Americans are from America?
American's don't speak British, nor write it.

Re:Why the quotes around amateur? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38178602)

Porn Star? The summary says he nailed it with 10 inches!

Re:Why the quotes around amateur? (1)

g4b (956118) | more than 2 years ago | (#38179038)

the word amateur indicates not being professional. however, it does not reveal knowledge, intelligence, dedication, insight, or anything else around whatever you do being an amateur, it only says, you dont do it for material exchange or have not seeked out renown terran academies where other people write you papers about what you can and cant do. Therefore the word "amateur" is a very peculiar word and should be as it was arrested in apostrophes.

The walk along the achievements of any terran who did not follow procedure in becoming professional, still is the only day, this word may leave its cell, parading with the victory, as a glimpse of hope to the non-achievers, a sign of shame or slight ridicule to others who own no papes, and at least maybe a slap in the face for any terran who sleeps on those papers he got.

Fascinating how a word divides us, shows us desires to work and achieve and be recognized in the system with titles and money, and still expresses our hate against it, as we start to look behind its condemning walls while we get older, harboring the hope the hipocrisy might end some day.

Or it simply reminds us of mass population pornography.

Re:Why the quotes around amateur? (1)

kubernet3s (1954672) | more than 2 years ago | (#38179990)

It's "Sought," though I've probably just had that brainwashed into me by one of those 'Terran' papers.

Those quotations are justified in BOTH uses.

Re:Why the quotes around amateur? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38209624)

This post looks like it was made by a spambot.

As Austin Powers Says (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38176114)

I wouldn’t have thought it was possible, especially with only a 25 cm (10 inch) telescope!

It's not the size: It's how you use it, Baby!

Re:As Austin Powers Says (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38185048)

Bigger than a loaded semi! Faster than a speeding bullet! Phallic object extraordinaire! Saturn V!

Re:As Austin Powers Says (1)

RivenAleem (1590553) | more than 2 years ago | (#38201390)

Well. 10" is nothing to be ashamed of.

rings around uranus! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38176120)

time to clean your asshole!

How about some more quotes (4, Funny)

slaad (589282) | more than 2 years ago | (#38176124)

"Rolf Olsen, an 'amateur' astronomer in 'New' Zealand, took an amazing 'photo' of a 'disk' of material around the 'star' Beta Pictoris, the first time this has been seen outside of 'professional' observatories. Incredibly, he snagged it with just a 25 'cm' (10") telescope! A comparison with an earlier 'pic' from a much larger 'observatory' indicates he nailed it, making this a 'milestone' for 'amateur' astronomy."

Re:How about some more quotes (1)

RivenAleem (1590553) | more than 2 years ago | (#38201398)

It's impossible to read your sentence without mentally pausing every time I see quotes.

Still in beta (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38176152)

Wake me up when it's gone gold.

Kudos to Rolf (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38176156)

He is my hero. Just ordered my telescope on Amazon.

Why is 'amateur' in quotes? (4, Informative)

pongo000 (97357) | more than 2 years ago | (#38176186)

I mean, if he really isn't an 'amateur,' then maybe he should have been referred to as a 'professional' astronomer (sans quotes)?

Oh wait...the Bad Astronomer makes an error that's common to the rest of the population: He believes 'amateur' means "one lacking in experience and competence in an art or science ." In fact, in this context 'amateur' means "not compensated," "not for hire," or "one who engages in a pursuit, study, science, or sport as a pastime rather than as a profession."

Perhaps the /. editors could help fight this common misunderstanding by dropping the superfluous quotes. It's too bad the grandeur of Rolf's contribution to science is sullied by other's ignorance. How many of you all thought to yourselves "Why the hell is 'amateur' in quotes?" C'mon...I know you did.

Re:Why is 'amateur' in quotes? (3, Insightful)

NixieBunny (859050) | more than 2 years ago | (#38176256)

Really. Amateur means that he does something else for a living, right? It's amateur, with no quotes. My coworker does amateur astronomy also, and he managed to shoot a *video* of the asteroid that passed close to us a couple weeks ago, something that seemed at the time to be considered the realm of the professional. But all he used was a typical 16 inch scope and a mid-priced non-cooled CCD camera. It's amazing what you can achieve in your hobby if you put a few $$$ and hours into a project.

Re:Why is 'amateur' in quotes? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38177666)

A 16 inch scope is anything but "typical", costing probably 10 times as much as the selfmade 10" Newtonian telescope this gentleman has used. Also, he didn't use a "mid-priced" non-cooled CCD, he used a (modified) cheap, off the shelf Philips webcam for this picture, which makes it all the more impressive.

Length, not aperture (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38181214)

Maybe the 16 inch was the length, not aperture?

Re:Length, not aperture (1)

gnapster (1401889) | more than 2 years ago | (#38185516)

Or maybe there was nothing unusual about his 16" scope.

Re:Why is 'amateur' in quotes? (5, Funny)

LoverOfJoy (820058) | more than 2 years ago | (#38176328)

Perhaps the /. "editors" could help fight this common misunderstanding by dropping the superfluous quotes.

Fixed that for you.

Re:Why is 'amateur' in quotes? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38176386)

Merriam Webster gives the following definition for amateur:

1 : devotee, admirer
2 : one who engages in a pursuit, study, science, or sport as a pastime rather than as a profession
3 : one lacking in experience and competence in an art or science

The use of scare quotes calls attention to the fact that, while he may not be an astronomer by trade, his involvement is more than amusement and diversion that would be suggested by a pastime, and he is certainly experienced and competent.

What you perceive to be an "error ... common to the rest of the population" is more likely a lack of understanding on your part.

Re:Why is 'amateur' in quotes? (1)

wdef (1050680) | more than 2 years ago | (#38177268)

Right. The etymology of 'amateur'? It literally means 'one who loves'. There was no shame in being an amateur in 19C and before. A fully rounded gentleman (we still use the phrase 'renaissance man' to refer to a multi skilled amateur) or lady could have a number of serious hobbies and being an amateur of science was one such pursuit. Many scientific advances were made by dedicated amateurs. Observational astronomy is one area where amateurs can still make extremely valuable contributions.

Re:Why is 'amateur' in quotes? (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38177038)

It's in quotes because the /. editors didn't remove the quote marks. Bad Astronomer copied the term from TFA, which is where the quotes started. It seems from the original that the author used "amateur" as a compliment, rather than a dig. He's essentially saying, "folks call this guy an "amateur," but he scooped the "pros" on this one."

Re:Why is 'amateur' in quotes? (4, Interesting)

gstoddart (321705) | more than 2 years ago | (#38177178)

He believes 'amateur' means "one lacking in experience and competence in an art or science ." In fact, in this context 'amateur' means "not compensated," "not for hire," or "one who engages in a pursuit, study, science, or sport as a pastime rather than as a profession."

Actually, I think in this case it's more along the lines he's been doing it so long, he's hardly some noob with a new telescope, but he's not a 'professional' either.

If you look here [pbase.com] , that man has some pretty serious astro-photography creds.

I don't think the article means to imply he's some hack who got lucky, but that he is, technically, an 'amateur'. There's no snark in calling him an amateur ... in fact, the last paragraph of TFA says:

My sincere and hearty congratulations to Rolf Olsen for achieving this (and you should look through his gallery of astrophotographs; they're beautiful and some are astonishing). I think it's a milestone in 'amateur' astronomy, and it goes to show you that sometimes, the sky is not the limit.

Seriously, read the article again ... this man is an 'amateur' in only the sense that you describe, and the article isn't saying anything else. He's certainly a competent astronomer (and one with the pleasure of living in an area that affords him some awesome viewing).

He's not an academic, but he is an 'amateur' -- the quotes seem to belittle the word amateur more than the man being discussed. I think you're mistaken to say " the grandeur of Rolf's contribution to science is sullied by other's ignorance" ... TFA is holding him in the highest esteem.

Re:Why is 'amateur' in quotes? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38179198)

It's because Phil "The Man in Charge" Plait thinks he's hot shit. Phil pisses on people who aren't him because he thinks he's the man. Ever subscribe to his twitter feed? I swear, he bitches more about politics and makes broad comments about sciences that aren't his field all the time. He likes to think he knows what's what but the fact is that he's a dick hole.

Re:Why is 'amateur' in quotes? (2)

Zadaz (950521) | more than 2 years ago | (#38179602)

How about "citizen astronomer"?
http://citizenscientistsleague.com/ [citizensci...league.com]

Forgot the quotes (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38176310)

Hey Bad Astronomer, you forgot the quotes around the "amateur" in the last sentence, you condescending bastard.

Sheesh.

Can this technique be used with BIG scopes? (2)

wisebabo (638845) | more than 2 years ago | (#38176326)

I guess what made this amazing photo possible was that rather than using an occluding disk or filter, he found a very similar star (the article says getting the same color was critical) and subtracted it (digitally?) from the image.

Can this be used by much bigger telescopes? Considering that they have hundreds of times more light gathering capabilities and, I would imagine, vastly more sophisticated sensors, we could be finding exo-earths by the bucketful. Maybe we could even be seeing the lights from alien civilizations on the night side of those worlds! (It would help if they used lamps that had some sort of unusual spectral characteristic).

Re:Can this technique be used with BIG scopes? (2)

imsabbel (611519) | more than 2 years ago | (#38177168)

Of course, and it has been done for (relative) ages.
All the directly imaged exoplanets were detected by that exact principle.

The news part is not the method, but that an amateur did it.

Phuck Phil Plait (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38176394)

That phucking phuck is using Slashdot to push his phucking blog. Anyone else who'd do that would get shit on for it. Phucking Phil gets away with being an asshole on Slashdot. Is this like when Wil Wheaton use to hang out here? The bitch could have a post of jumbled letters and dipshits here would mod it up just because it was Wesley Crusher.
 
Oh well, more hero worship from the basement dwelling crowd. I think I'll pass and call a bitch a bitch.

Re:Phuck Phil Plait (0)

TapeCutter (624760) | more than 2 years ago | (#38176516)

- shakes puny fist - Wheeeeeeatooooooonnnnnn!!!!!

Definitely photoshopped (1, Funny)

M8e (1008767) | more than 2 years ago | (#38176398)

The glare is all wrong, I can see the pixels and I RTFA that says so.

Re:Definitely photoshopped (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38179066)

XKCD reference [xkcd.com]

YOKU FAIL IbT? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38177540)

to g3t some Eye

Tro7L (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38178740)

and some 0f the

Quoth the "raven" (4, Informative)

The Bad Astronomer (563217) | more than 2 years ago | (#38179194)

The reason I use quotation marks for "amateur" is that a lot of people think amateur means beginner, or not very good at what they're doing. In astronomy the meaning is harder to pin down; a lot of amateurs are doing amazing work. David Levy (of Shoemaker Levy 9) is sometimes referred to as an amateur, meaning not professional. But even then, what does it mean? Unpaid? He gets paid. Untrained? That's silly; he's a great astronomer. So I put the word in quotation marks as a way to poke gentle fun at the way people perceive the word.

Re:Quoth the "raven" (1)

gnapster (1401889) | more than 2 years ago | (#38185552)

It's a shame you didn't make the first post. ;c)

Re:Quoth the "raven" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38192396)

But even then, what does it mean? Unpaid?

Yes. Unpaid for what they are doing is the definition. I don't see a need to start changing the definition, because a few people are confused.

Bang on (1)

NSN A392-99-964-5927 (1559367) | more than 2 years ago | (#38181020)

Every now and again I speak to Sir Patrick Moore who is a dear friend, I am sure this post deserves a lifetime of +5 moderation or to go into the hall of fame.

Thank you for such a wonderful post.

Extra quotation marks do add interest... (2)

willworkforbeer (924558) | more than 2 years ago | (#38181382)

"Rolf Olsen" an "amateur" "astronomer" in "New Zealand" took an "amazing" photo of a "disk" of material around the "star" Beta Pictoris... making this a "milestone" for amateur "astronomy."

We mean "Freelance", not "amateur" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38210658)

A better term could be freelance astronomer and not amateur astronomer.

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