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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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  • Re:Fooooosh.... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rmushkatblat (1690080) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @04:32AM (#30867960)
    Try this at home, kids!
  • by kale77in (703316) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @04:41AM (#30868008) Homepage
    ... but the article is rather light on quotes from actual, stunned astronomers.
  • 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!
  • Re:Stunning (Score:4, Insightful)

    by x2A (858210) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @04:56AM (#30868050)

    Totally... but comparable to photos from Hubble? Sure, I guess "not as good as" is a comparison. Living here in Britain I can confirm getting pictures of the sky like that is no easy feat, and are definitely impressive... but there's no way you could achieve anything like Hubble's output, what a silly thing for them to say! I expected better from news outlets than that... haha jk.

  • 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 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!
  • by mike2R (721965) on Saturday January 23, 2010 @05:57AM (#30868234)

    He gets paid bupkas, the author of TFA is Peter Shah himself, who actually paid them to publish TFA, it's a paid advertisement for his book. If you think it's not a paid ad go ahead and try to find the name of the journalist who wrote TFA. What, the author's name is missing from TFA? How odd.

    Jesus, some people will make up conspiracy theories about anything.

  • 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.

  • 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 ...

  • 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 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 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 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.

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