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Space Science

'Amateur' Astronomer Snaps Pic of Planet-Forming Disk 59

Posted by Soulskill
from the getting-the-most-out-of-your-tools dept.
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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'Amateur' Astronomer Snaps Pic of Planet-Forming Disk

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 26, 2011 @04:17PM (#38176070)

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

    • Maybe he's both?

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 26, 2011 @04:34PM (#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.

      • by History's Coming To (1059484) on Saturday November 26, 2011 @05:42PM (#38176446) Journal
        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.
        • 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: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Anonymous Coward

            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 art

            • 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 ha

      • by mapkinase (958129)

        "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..

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

    • by osu-neko (2604) on Saturday November 26, 2011 @07:14PM (#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.

      • 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."
    • by g4b (956118)

      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 foll

      • 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.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 26, 2011 @04:25PM (#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!

  • by slaad (589282) on Saturday November 26, 2011 @04:26PM (#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."

  • by pongo000 (97357) on Saturday November 26, 2011 @04:46PM (#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.

    • by NixieBunny (859050) on Saturday November 26, 2011 @05:05PM (#38176256) Homepage
      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.
      • by Anonymous Coward
        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.
    • by LoverOfJoy (820058) on Saturday November 26, 2011 @05:20PM (#38176328) Homepage

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

      Fixed that for you.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      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."

    • by gstoddart (321705) on Saturday November 26, 2011 @07:26PM (#38177178) Homepage

      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.

    • by Zadaz (950521)

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

  • by wisebabo (638845) on Saturday November 26, 2011 @05:20PM (#38176326) Journal

    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).

    • by imsabbel (611519)

      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.

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

  • Quoth the "raven" (Score:5, Informative)

    by The Bad Astronomer (563217) <thebadastronomer AT gmail DOT com> on Sunday November 27, 2011 @12:20AM (#38179194) Homepage
    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.
  • 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.

  • "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."

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