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Space Science

Space Photos Taken From Shed Stun Astronomers 149

Posted by timothy
from the love-the-gold-mylar dept.
krou writes "Amateur astronomer Peter Shah has stunned astronomers around the world with amazing photos of the universe taken from his garden shed. Shah spent £20,000 on the equipment, hooking up a telescope in his shed to his home computer, and the results are being compared to images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. 'Most men like to putter about in their garden shed,' said Shah, 'but mine is a bit more high tech than most. I have fitted it with a sliding roof so I can sit in comfort and look at the heavens. I have a very modest set up, but it just goes to show that a window to the universe is there for all of us – even with the smallest budgets. I had to be patient and take the images over a period of several months because the skies in Britain are often clouded over and you need clear conditions.' His images include the Monkey's head nebula, M33 Pinwheel Galaxy, Andromeda Galaxy and the Flaming Star Nebula, and are being put together for a book."
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Space Photos Taken From Shed Stun Astronomers

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  • by reverendbeer (1496637) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @04:13AM (#30867892)
    My God....it's full of stars.
  • Beautiful pictures (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TheKidWho (705796) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @04:17AM (#30867904)

    Amazing, I would like to see some more details of his setup, particularly which telescope and CCD he used.

    I personally have a 6" Dobsonian, but without an equatorial mount it's nearly impossible to replicate his results.

    • by TheKidWho (705796) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @04:26AM (#30867936)

      Information found:

      He used an ORION OPTICS UK AG8 Astrograph and a STARLIGHT XPRESS SXV-H16 CCD.

      http://www.astropix.co.uk/equipment.html [astropix.co.uk]

    • by compro01 (777531) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @04:27AM (#30867942)

      There's info on the telescope and CCD here [astropix.co.uk]

    • by serbanp (139486) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @05:33AM (#30868162)

      What is impressive is how accurate and stable the tracking mount must be. Some exposures are 4 hour long yet in the resulting photo the brightest spots don't have any trail.

      • by CnlPepper (140772) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @08:16AM (#30868766)

        I would assume he collects many hundreds of frames with a much shorter exposure time and then adjusts for the motion in the frame prior to "averageing" frames. A Bayesian statistical model that accounts for motion and various noise sources, any optical aberrations etc.. would be capable of extracting the level of information seen in these images.

      • by budgenator (254554) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @12:13PM (#30870108) Journal

        The impression I get is now the guide scope either have their own camera and is monitored by a computer or the main camera is sample for guidance correction via software. His equatorial mount [losmandy.com] accepts auto-guider systems.

    • by pedestrian crossing (802349) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @05:34AM (#30868166) Homepage Journal

      Dobs are useless for photography. You would have to use an equatorial mount.

      It would me even more interesting to know his digital process. That's where the magic happens. Of course you have to start with a good set of the right kind of exposures, but it's the processing that brings out the sort of details you see in the photos. The images that come out of the hardware don't look anything like the photos.

      In fact, with a fairly modest mount/tracking setup, a DSLR, and the right processing (also a healthy dose of patience), you can get surprisingly good astrophotos.

      • by lena_10326 (1100441) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @07:19AM (#30868556) Homepage

        Why worry about smooth equatorial tracking? Rig your camera using the cheapest tracking solution you have or move it by hand if you have to. Who cares if it jitters. It just can't jitter during the exposure. Merge the photos into 1 frame by removing the jitter and combining exposures.

        A 100 second exposure pic is equal to 100 one second exposure pics. The problem is in finding software to stitch the photos into 1 frame. The easiest to try is to just get PhotoShop. Stitch the photos into 1 with Photo Merge [adobe.com]. You can also experiment with PhotoShop HDR merge [slashdot.org]. You may have to tweak the contrast/brightness and light levels before or after.

        2nd option is using video stabilization software to remove the jitter. There are tons of software options for that but you want one will accept very large resolution pics with large dimensions. You want apps that will work on frames as individual photos instead of enforcing video formats on import and export. Off the shell software might be tuned for pics with normal daylight exposure, so look for options to fine tune the algorithm to work on dimly exposed pics.

        If the software won't work on dimly exposed pics, perhaps you can experiment with batch processing the files to increase contrast and brightness or tweak the lighting levels. (Lots of software options.) Feed the result into the stabilization software. Batch process again to reverse the contrast/brightness increase.

        The post-process step is to stitch and merge the photos into one as before. Plain stitching used to create panorama shots won't work. It needs to sum the exposure data. Photo apps solve these types of problems so there's a good chance it would work with PhotoShop or Paint Shop Pro (with "HDR Photo Merge [amazon.com]). You could shoot a series of fast exposures for the raw data and 1 long blurry exposure to use as a reference point for the HDR merge. Example. [photoshopcafe.com]

        • by TapeCutter (624760) * on Saturday January 23, 2010 @08:43AM (#30868896) Journal
          Frame stacking also allows you to indentify noise from the CCD. I've used a DSLR to take relatively short time exposures of lightning (30sec), I always have to touch up the photos to get rid of the random colored dots that come from it's noisy CCD.
        • by mangu (126918) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @09:48AM (#30869234)

          In step 11 of the HDR link you provided it seems to me that, except for a bluer sky, the HDR photo is actually somewhat worse for details than the original on the left.

          The problem with stacking astronomy photos over a long time without an equatorial mount is that the image field rotates from one photo to the next. Your software should take that into account, otherwise the result will be a lot of circles centered on the celestial pole.

          • by lena_10326 (1100441) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @11:16AM (#30869766) Homepage
            Step 11 is lower quality because he applied a tone mapping texture for artistic purposes. The center one in the 3 panel is the HDR one. Also, rotation is taken care with the software, however it's not ideal. Rotating image data (at angles other than 90,180,270,360) destroys a little bit of pixel information even with very high res images (not usually noticeable to the eye but it happens).
        • by ceoyoyo (59147) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @09:49AM (#30869240)

          "A 100 second exposure pic is equal to 100 one second exposure pics."

          Not quite. Averaging multiple exposures lets you remove noise yes. Digital sensors are so sensitive that for reasonably bright objects what you say is true. But, if you want to image dimmer objects, you have to have a longer exposure simply to make sure you actually catch enough photons.

          • by lena_10326 (1100441) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @11:07AM (#30869718) Homepage

            The number of photons over a fixed amount of time isn't going to change whether exposure time is sliced into a single exposure or multiple exposures. It's basic math.

            • by ceoyoyo (59147) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @12:12PM (#30870102)

              Suppose my sensor registers 1 instead of zero, on average, when it is hit by ten photons. If my exposure is so short and the object I am imaging is so dim that I only collect five photons from it during each exposure, it will generally not register. I can average all the frames I want and I'm not going to get a good image of it.

              Yes, it is simple math. Just not quite as simple as you're doing. You don't suppose you've discovered some novel concept that both amateur and professional astronomers have missed, do you? You better tell them - all the money they pour into larger apertures and better tracking is completely wasted!

              • by smallfries (601545) on Monday January 25, 2010 @07:34AM (#30888200) Homepage

                You're assuming that photon collection events are discrete and the sensor is acting like an accumulator. This implies that it needs to accumulate a constant number of photons before it jumps into the triggered state (so it's a saturating accumulator). He sounds as if he is assuming that the sensor is acting probabilistically; each photon to sensor interaction has a 1/10 chance of flipping the sensor into the triggered state. In his case splitting the exposure into smaller windows would preserve the overall probability of a flip. In your case it is not quite as simple as you describe as you assuming that the distribution of photons has low enough variability that the saturating count has a low probability of being hit. So if the average was five but there was more noise you would get better performance.

                I'm not sure who is correct, but it seems more like a question on the underlying physics in both models rather than the maths.

                • by ceoyoyo (59147) on Monday January 25, 2010 @09:52AM (#30889104)

                  Yes. Actual image sensors are slightly more complicated than I've described, but as a first approximation they do behave that way. If you check the wikipedia page [wikipedia.org], you'll see that the light sensitive elements are basically photo-capacitors - definitely accumulators.

                  An additional complication is that image sensors never don't really register negative noise photons. Zero signal is as low as you can go. Averaging many exposures causes the noise to cancel, leaving signal, which is consistent from frame to frame. However, since very low amplitude noise does not cancel, there will always be a noise floor (and a noise floor that follows a skewed distribution at that) that very weak signals can get lost in, no matter how much averaging you do.

                  Film needs a lot of photons to cause a grain of silver to "flip." You needed long exposures to get any image at all on film, and long exposures are hard. The solution was to build bigger telescopes or to improve your tracking so you could do longer exposures.

                  Digital sensors are much more sensitive than film, and linear over a much greater portion of their dynamic range, but a lot of that sensitivity is lost in noise. You can recover it though, by averaging many frames. That works, but it's not a miracle - it has limits. So telescopes are much more powerful now, simply because the sensors are better. Once you hit those limits you're still back to building bigger telescopes or improving your tracking though.

                  If you think about it, you realize that the sensors used by astronomers MUST work this way. As I said, if the OP was correct that 100 one second exposures is the equivalent of 1 100 second exposure then astronomy would be very different. A large aperture telescope would be much less important and nobody would bother tracking. All astronomical exposures would be made at some exposure that is a fraction of a second to minimize movement. Astronomers, amateur or professional, simply do not take 1/1000 s exposures (unless they're looking at a bright target like the sun or a nearby planet).

                  I used to have a link to an amateur astrophotograher's page where he went deep into the physics and noise characteristics of CCD sensors. I can't find it, but you can probably find something similar. Amateur astrophotographers are generally very knowledgeable about their tools.

            • by budgenator (254554) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @02:18PM (#30870996) Journal

              The number of photons over a fixed amount of time isn't going to change whether exposure time is sliced into a single exposure or multiple exposures. It's basic math.

              Your assuming that the CCD is going to be equally sensitive to every photon many of the initial photons are going to be buried in the detector thermonic noise, this is why amateurs use peltier devices to cool their detectors and pros use cryogenic liquids. Additionally the electronics reading the charge on the CCD pixels will have a threshold level you have to get above. There are probably other factors that I am not aware of.

        • by lena_10326 (1100441) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @11:23AM (#30869800) Homepage
          Btw, HDR software might not be the the right solution because it seems to be more about averaging different exposures. There's got to be software that will combine and add multiple exposures. It also wouldn't be too hard to write a simplified algorithm to do it.
        • by budgenator (254554) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @01:00PM (#30870450) Journal

          Try Astroart 4.0 [msb-astroart.com] seems like it'll do it all.

      • by hey! (33014) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @10:18AM (#30869402) Homepage Journal

        By definition a Dobsonian is a cheap alt-az mount that provides steady and smooth operation by hand, so yes they are useless for any kind of photography that requires long exposures.

        It doesn't follow that you need an equatorial mount to do anything. I've seen some very nice photos made by stacking short exposures of bright objects that were hand tracked using an alt-az mount. And of course professional instruments these days use computer controlled alt-az mounts, but that's a different story. Possibly an amateur with a fixed observatory might be able to build a good enough alt-az setup to do long exposures, but there's no reason to. An equatorial mount is bound to be a better investment of time given the size instrument he's likely to have. The big advantage of the alt-az mount is that it is simple, stable, and lightweight for those observers who want to haul the scope out of the garage to do some visual observations.

        • by ogre7299 (229737) <jjtobin@umich . e du> on Saturday January 23, 2010 @11:55AM (#30869990)

          In order to take the long exposures necessary an equatorial mount is necessary. As an object moves through the sky the field in an alt-az telescope rotates. Thus, you would have to take short enough exposures to ensure that the rotation doesn't smear the images and then rotate them as you stack them. Also, tracking is a bit more complicated since you have to drive on two axes.

          The large alt-az telescopes like Magellan, Gemini, and Keck get around the field rotation problem by having the instruments on a rotator to take out the field rotation.

          • by hey! (33014) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @02:02PM (#30870902) Homepage Journal

            What I'm saying is that long exposures aren't necessary to make impressive pictures, if you're not taking pictures of nebulae. I've seen very nice pictures of asterisms, planets, and of course lunar pictures that were taken on alt-az mounts. I've even seem some fairly nice pictures taken where the astrophotographer hand guided an alt-az mount, although obviously that's only possible to do for a minute or so.

            You can't argue with results.

      • by burris (122191) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @11:09AM (#30869734)

        Dobs are not "useless" for photography. People do manage to capture some pretty good images of the moon and planets with nice stable dobs that have tracking and a video camera. Check out Wes Higgin's images of Mars [higginsandsons.com], Jupiter [higginsandsons.com], and Saturn [higginsandsons.com] captured with an 14.5" Starmaster Dob. Judging by his page, he is fairly seriously into lunar imaging. Far from useless...

  • Google says... (Score:4, Informative)

    by reverendbeer (1496637) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @04:26AM (#30867938)
    ...go here for more pic of his setup. I can totally see where that £20k went. http://www.opticstar.com/Run/Astronomy/Astro-Editorial-Articles-General.asp?p=0_10_19_1_6_10 [opticstar.com]
  • by Tablizer (95088) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @04:36AM (#30867984) Homepage Journal

    They may resemble some of the aesthetics of Hubble, but not the resolution. Thus, the comparison is potentially misleading. The photos in the gallery are of relatively near or bright objects. It's more about careful timing, planning, and processing that brings out details of such objects. Major observatories often don't have the budget or motivation to spend the time to carefully process images of common astronomical objects.

    One amateur reprocessed images from Soviet Venus landers and brought out some amazing detail, finding landscape features that weren't spotted before. It's simply the case that sometimes amateurs are simply motivated to spend the necessary time and attention to detail more so than "professionals", who normally have full in-boxes. Amateurs can decide to be as anal as they want. Call it open-source astronomy.
       

    • by tagno25 (1518033) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @04:58AM (#30868064)

      They may resemble some of the aesthetics of Hubble, but not the resolution. Thus, the comparison is potentially misleading.

      I know. They look decent, but a ~200KB image does not compare to a ~200MB (~204800KB) Hubble photo.

      • by Firehed (942385) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @09:56AM (#30869272) Homepage

        Has it not occurred to you that he may have resized the full-res images for web posting? I'd be willing to bet that the originals aren't Hubble-quality, but they probably have more resolution than a 1996-era webcam.

        • by Nyeerrmm (940927) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @12:09PM (#30870076)

          Most amateur level astronomical CCDs (amateur is a relative term in this case) are pretty low resolution. The SBIG ST-7 I use for the observatory I run is only around 800x600. For this kind of equipment you're not looking for number of pixels nearly as much as low noise, good cooling, and pixels that are sized right for the optics you're running.

          When the parent refers to resolution, he means the angular size of each pixel, not the sheer number of pixels. This is a function of aperture size and atmospheric clarity -- all the CCD can do is take maximum advantage of whats available by making each pixel about half of what can be resolved by the optics.

    • by fm6 (162816) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @05:07AM (#30868092) Homepage Journal

      It's also worth pointing out that the scientific value of an astronomical picture has nothing to do with how pretty it is. And it was science that justified the huge sums spent on Hubble, not pretty pictures. We're just used to seeing spectacular Hubble photos because NASA, ever mindful of PR, keeps pushing them out, often "enhancing" them to make the skies more photogenic.

      • by wierdling (609715) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @05:55AM (#30868228) Homepage
        As someone who processes Hubble data for viewing (I am working on one right now), pretty much every image you see like the ones he show are "enhanced". They are taken through (generally) 3 narrow band filters for nebulae, and 3 wide band for galaxies. If you check his images, he even shows what filters he used.
        And NASA isn't the only group putting out viewable Hubble images. The ESA publishes quite a few (which get published through the Hubble Heritage site). Check out www.spacetelescope.org. The lovely full view of Orion was done by them.
        • by fm6 (162816) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @08:51AM (#30868948) Homepage Journal

          Nice web site. Very first image I pulled up was of Perseus A, and the text said "Detail and structure from optical, radio and X-ray wavelengths have been combined for an aesthetically pleasing image which shows the violent events in the galaxy's heart." And you seem to be saying that all images produced for mass consumption are like that. So these images are even more different from the ones that scientists care about than I thought they were.

          The fact that the European counterpart to NASA also uses these photos for PR is kind of beside the point. And I'm not condemning either agency for doing this. Eye candy may not be as important as science, but it does help justify the budget that gets the science done. I'm just debunking the idea that eye candy is what Hubble is for.

          Nor do I want to trivialize what Shah does. His work not only gives us cool-looking pictures, it raises interest in backyard astronomy — a "hobby" which does a lot of serious science [hobbyspace.com].

    • by bundaegi (705619) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @08:38AM (#30868874)

      One amateur reprocessed images from Soviet Venus landers and brought out some amazing detail, finding landscape features that weren't spotted before. It's simply the case that sometimes amateurs are simply motivated to spend the necessary time and attention to detail more so than "professionals", who normally have full in-boxes. Amateurs can decide to be as anal as they want. Call it open-source astronomy.

      Thanks! I looked it up, and if you are referring to Don Mitchell's story, it is indeed well worth reading. http://www.mentallandscape.com/C_CatalogVenus.htm [mentallandscape.com]

      Even better, the re-processing pipeline for each of the Venera mission [mentallandscape.com] datasets is explained in great detail. For instance, about the Venera-9 mission images (from http://www.mentallandscape.com/V_DigitalImages.htm [mentallandscape.com]:

      The upper image is the raw 6-bit telemetry, about 115 by 512 pixels. Automatic gain control and logarithmic quantization were used to handle the unknown dynamic range of illumination. Previously published images from these probes suffered from severe analog generation loss, so it is fortunate that the original data was found. The raw image was converted to optical density according to Russian calibration data, then to linear radiance for image processing. It was interpolated with windowed sinc filter to avoid post-aliasing (a "pixilated" appearance), and the modulation transfer function ("aperture") of the camera was corrected with a 1 + 0.2*frequency**2 emphasis. This was then written out as 8-bit gamma-corrected values, using the sRGB standard gamma of 2.2. Some of the telemetry bars on the right were replaced with data from the 124 panorama. The bottom image is digitally in-painted, using Bertalmio's isophote-flow algorithm, to fill in missing data.

      ... and for a BBC coverage of the story: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/3387895.stm [bbc.co.uk]

    • by floateyedumpi (187299) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @02:58PM (#30871370)

      Here's a comparison:

      • His [astropix.co.uk] M101
      • Hubble's [hubblesite.org] M101 (Warning!!! 58MB JPEG)
  • by kale77in (703316) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @04:41AM (#30868008) Homepage
    ... but the article is rather light on quotes from actual, stunned astronomers.
    • by jamesh (87723) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @04:55AM (#30868046)

      quotes from actual, stunned astronomers.

      Ever been stunned before? Obviously the astronomers were just too stunned to say anything worth quoting.

    • by Stephan Schulz (948) <schulz@informatik.tu-muenchen.de> on Saturday January 23, 2010 @04:59AM (#30868072) Homepage
      Well, they are obviously too baffled to comment! Or maybe too flummoxed. Or the Daily Telegraph is the kind of newspaper that thinks "Lara Croft picks up six Guinness world records [telegraph.co.uk]" is related to astronomy and just pulls headlines out of its...
    • by Sulphur (1548251) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @05:23AM (#30868138)

      How many astronomers were stunned to make these pictures. Was it done humanely?

    • by Trapezium Artist (919330) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @07:40AM (#30868604)

      IAAPA (I am a professional astronomer), and I'm not stunned. Sorry. Nice work for a back-garden job, but any comparison with Hubble or any of our 4, 8, 10m class telescopes is utterly specious.

      What's he and many other (admittedly very dedicated) amateurs are benefitting from is the enormous improvement in detectors (in this case, CCDs) over the past 20-odd years, plus the not-unrelated improvement in computer processing power to align, stack, and mosaic digital images. Obviously, professional astronomers have access to all that in spades, as well as much larger telescopes / telescopes above the atmosphere as well.

      So yes, superficially similar and impressive coming from an amateur with limited resources, but to compare this with Hubble is completely lame-brained. Indeed, the cynic in me notes that TFA is puffing a book of his images: what a coincidence. A sidebar link takes you to a similar article in 2008 about another amateur who's "seeing the beginning of the Universe" from his shed: surprise, surprise, that article also puffs a book of his pictures. Of course, the article's in the Torygraph, which delights in celebrating a fifty years out of date vision of Britain populated by toffs, proles, and eccentric back garden amateur boffins, so hardly unexpected.

      Going back to the point about better detectors, however, it's interesting to note that although we've built bigger and bigger telescopes over the past twenty years (as well as developing adaptive optics, space telescopes, broader wavelength coverage, etc.), the main gain we've experienced in terms of scientific performance has come from the vastly improved detectors. Problem is, we're now pretty close to detecting every photon that falls on the detectors and we can build detector arrays that almost fill the available focal plane.

      To go further in ground-based astronomy then, we need much (much) larger telescopes, such as the E-ELT, TMT, and GMT. With their much larger collecting area and higher spatial resolution, you can expect truly fabulous things in the next ten years. From space, it's JWST, of course ...

  • Stunning? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sperbels (1008585) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @04:49AM (#30868028)
    Yes, those are very nice pictures for an 8 inch scope. But stunning??? Did he do anything else besides getting a scope with good optics, a steady mount, and a high resolution CCD? Any special processing? What software? Did he have to stack a whole lot of images and toss out bad ones where the atmosphere messed the image up too much? Details! We need the gritty details!
    • by petes_PoV (912422) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @06:27AM (#30868350)
      I guess the software was plain old Photoshop - that's what most amateurs (and pros, for "publicity shots") use. The best mount is a "Paramount" (about £10k). The camera might even be a british Starlite-Xpress model.

      The thing is, the advent of CCD imagers (cameras) has increased sensitivity so much and the use of PCs has allowed such better processing, that an amateur (even me!) today can easily get better pics than the professionals from 40 or 50 years ago: when everything had to be recorded on film, developed and with no hope of post-processing if you messed up.

      What you won't be able to do, unless you live in the middle of nowhere, is get dark enough skies: without any light-pollution, to produce images of this quality. Oh yes, you'll also have to wait for the two or three days every month when it's not cloudy or raining.

      If you want to know how it's done, visit http://ukastroimaging.co.uk/ [ukastroimaging.co.uk] of any of the other amateur astronomy sites.

    • Re:Stunning? (Score:3, Informative)

      by Angostura (703910) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @07:00AM (#30868488)

      From the article: "....The superb photos, each made up of about 30 frames..."

      • by Nyeerrmm (940927) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @12:21PM (#30870156)

        I would assume thats referring to mosaicing (setting the images side by side) rather than with stacking (adding the images on top of each other).

        If you're trying to image something like andromeda through an 8" scope, you're going to have to scan across it. Really, for something that big, your best bet is to stick a DSLR piggyback on the telescope tube.

  • by Tablizer (95088) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @04:53AM (#30868040) Homepage Journal

    NGC1499 is also known as the "California Nebula". Most of the other nebulas are identified by their colloquial name, so why did they skip California? Bloody Brits still pissed about 1776! ;-)

  • Nah (Score:2, Funny)

    by fph il quozientatore (971015) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @05:22AM (#30868134) Homepage
    Nah. Clearly photoshopped.
  • by Saboo (1190071) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @05:27AM (#30868150)
    The UK Science and Technologies Facilities Council is busily slashing funding to much of UK astronomy. I guess this article is great for the powers that be to point out the UK doesn't need to spend money to e.g. stay as a partner in the Gemini Observatory when they can get results comparable to Hubble for 20 grand!
  • Not THAT stunning. (Score:2, Informative)

    by tumutbound (549414) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @05:46AM (#30868200)
    Nice images but hardly Hubble. There are other amateurs doing work that is just as good or better. Check out this guy http://www.pbase.com/strongmanmike2002 [pbase.com]
  • by petes_PoV (912422) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @06:17AM (#30868310)
    What NASA releases for general consumption are highly filtered, highly photoshopped images that are promoted for their vivid colours and "cosmic" impressions. That's not what Hubble is used for. If that was all it did then yes, this guy (and the thousands of others around the world like him) could fill the media with colourful images all day long.

    However, none of them is worth a dam' for research use: where calibration is much more important that prettiness and resolution, low noise and even the spectrum of light used (not all light makes it through the atmosphere - esp. IR) are the sole reasons for spening all that money getting Hubble up there.

    While I applaud the Telegraph for publicising this, it not what professional astronomers do - nor is it even close to what Hubble does to earn it's money.

  • Science! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Matrix14 (135171) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @06:17AM (#30868312)

    I'm wondering what sort of more scientific data one could get from a setup like this. Not for actual science purposes, but for my or his own fun. Do the CCDs used have enough intensity granularity that one could detect the red and blue shift differences in spinning galaxies, for instance, and do some dark matter calculations for oneself?

  • by cvtan (752695) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @07:42AM (#30868612)
    The basic implication from this article is that real scientists are idiots who waste money building expensive toys when a regular person with a modest budget can get the same results. (Similar to endless homemade electric car articles about how a guy in his garage made something better than a Prius.) These photos are wonderful, but not like those from the Hubble. Also, there is a notable lack of quotes from "stunned" astronomers as others have pointed out. Shah is a talented amateur who spent $32000 on his advanced hobby. How many of us have spent that much on a hobby? [Nevermind...] He IS an astronomer. The photos were not taken with a "garden shed" but with $32k of equipment. I have no problem with Shah, but this is borderline anti-scientist propaganda. And no I am not paranoid! Wait, I just had to turn around to see if that scary splicer from BioShock was standing behind me.
  • by HuguesT (84078) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @09:05AM (#30869020)

    They can indeed be compared to HST pictures, as in, they are not as good.

    They are pretty, an impressive achievement for an amateur using a 8" telescope, an inspiration to many, but the pictures not as detailed or scientifically interesting.

  • Comparison (Score:3, Informative)

    by HuguesT (84078) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @09:22AM (#30869102)

    Sorry for duplicated post

    Compare the referred author picture of NGC 6888 here [astropix.co.uk] to a professional job there [nasa.gov]. The former is still very impressive for an amateur, indeed this is the verbatim comment from the IAC site [www.iac.es] (where the professional picture was taken):

    NGC 6888 is out of the reach of an amateur telescope. The nebula can only be observed in deep images. Large telescopes like the 2.5-m Isaac Newton Telescope on La Palma and narrow-band filters are needed to image the intricate structure of the gas shells.

  • by hey! (33014) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @09:49AM (#30869238) Homepage Journal

    Amateur astronomer Peter Shah has stunned astronomers around the world with amazing photos of the universe taken from his garden shed.

    As remarkable an accomplishment as these photos are, it would have been even more remarkable if he'd managed to take pictures of something other than the universe.

  • Not Impressive (Score:5, Informative)

    by burris (122191) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @10:44AM (#30869582)

    I'm sorry, but his pics just aren't that great compared to other amateur imagers.

    Compare Peter Shah's image [astropix.co.uk] of M42 with Rob Gendler's [robgendlerastropics.com]. Or how about this even more stunning one [astrophoto.com] captured by Tony and Daphne Hallas with a 6" refractor at the Winter Star Party.

    IMHO, Peter Shah's self promotion is more impressive than his images.

  • stunning starbursts? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Walter White (1573805) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @10:54AM (#30869638)

    The starbursts are aesthetically pleasing (stunning) but I suspect they would be detrimental to any scientific use of the images. Their presence is most likely the result of post processing that favors artistic appearance over scientific accuracy. IANAA but I doubt that the images have any scientific relevance.

  • by Arguendo (931986) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @01:49PM (#30870812)

    I can't even come close to replicating these photographs myself, but there are even more incredible examples of amateurs doing amazing space photography with relatively simple equipment. There are a couple of these geniuses in the SF Bay Area. One I'm familiar with is Rogelio Bernal Andreo. He is a fixture at astro sites around the Bay, and his photographs are simply jaw dropping. I believe most of his magic happens on the back end in the digital processing. His set up easily packs into his car.

    Check some of these out: http://blog.deepskycolors.com/nebulas.html [deepskycolors.com]

  • by cyn1c77 (928549) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @02:58PM (#30871360)

    I am sorry to be negative, but this Slashdot post reads like it was written by someone with absolutely no experience in astronomy.

    While the gentleman certainly takes high-quality pictures, he is solidly in the amateur category and no different from the thousands of other committed amateur astronomers that have a minimum of $20K in equipment to be able to observe and image the stars. There are amateurs who take much better pictures and have far more spectacular (and expensive) equipment out there.

    Furthermore, it is absolutely ridiculous and insulting to compare his images to that of the Hubble Space Telescope. His telescope has a smaller aperature (8 inches versus 95 inches), his CCD resolution is much lower and has a much higher operating temperature. Furthermore, he has to contend with the effects of atmospheric distortion. Just because the object shapes and colors look similar to a layperson, his images achieve nowhere near the resolution and detail of the Hubble.

  • I read this and thought, haven't I seen this before? But no, apparently The Telegraph published a similar story in 2008 about another gentleman, living in england, who has also taken some amazing space photographs from his "garden shed." http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/3526362/Amateur-astronomer-captures-dawn-of-the-universe-from-back-garden-observatory.html [telegraph.co.uk] - interesting.

  • by jridley (9305) on Monday January 25, 2010 @12:05PM (#30891158)

    I looked through his gallery, and although he certainly has done a good job, it's not really any better than the work of hundreds of other amateurs.

    With modern SLRs, digital image stacking and a decent scope, a lot of people are doing this level of work. It takes some level of talent and a lot of patience, but it's nothing all that extraordinary.

    It's CERTAINLY not up to the level of the current HST. None of those images show anything like the level of detail the Hubble has achieved.

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