Professional and amateur astronomers join forces

April 24, 2014
Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO; Optical: Detlef Hartmann; Infrared: NASA/JPL-Caltech

(Phys.org) —Long before the term "citizen science" was coined, the field of astronomy has benefited from countless men and women who study the sky in their spare time. These amateur astronomers devote hours exploring the cosmos through a variety of telescopes that they acquire, maintain, and improve on their own. Some of these amateur astronomers specialize in capturing what is seen through their telescopes in images and are astrophotographers.

What happens when the work of amateur astronomers and astrophotographers is combined with the data from some of the world's most sophisticated space telescopes? Collaborations between professional and amateur astronomers reveal the possibilities and are intended to raise interest and awareness among the community of the wealth of data publicly available in NASA's various mission archives. This effort is particularly appropriate for this month because April marks Global Astronomy Month, the world's largest global celebration of astronomy.

The images in this quartet of galaxies represent a sample of composites created with X-ray data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, infrared data from the Spitzer Space Telescope, and collected by an amateur astronomer. In these images, the X-rays from Chandra are shown in pink, infrared emission from Spitzer is red, and the optical data are in red, green, and blue. The two astrophotographers who donated their images for these four images—Detlef Hartmann and Rolf Olsen—used their personal telescopes of 17.5 inches and 10 inches in diameter respectively. More details on how these images were made can be found in this blog post.

Starting in the upper left and moving clockwise, the galaxies are M101 (the "Pinwheel Galaxy"), M81, Centaurus A, and M51 (the "Whirlpool Galaxy"). M101 is a like our Milky Way, but about 70% bigger. It is located about 21 million light years from Earth. M81 is a spiral galaxy about 12 million light years away that is both relatively large in the sky and bright, making it a frequent target for both amateur and professional astronomers. Centaurus A is the fifth brightest galaxy in the sky—making it an ideal target for amateur astronomers—and is famous for the dust lane across its middle and a giant jet blasting away from the supermassive black hole at its center. Finally, M51 is another spiral galaxy, about 30 million light years away, that is in the process of merging with a smaller galaxy seen to its upper left.

For many and astrophotographers, a main goal of their efforts is to observe and share the wonders of the Universe. However, the long exposures of these objects may help to reveal phenomena that may otherwise be missed in the relatively short snapshots taken by major telescopes, which are tightly scheduled and often oversubscribed by professional astronomers. Therefore, projects like this Astro Pro-Am collaboration might prove useful not only for producing spectacular images, but also contributing to the knowledge of what is happening in each of these cosmic vistas.

Explore further: A pinwheel in many colors

Related Stories

A pinwheel in many colors

May 25, 2012

(Phys.org) -- This image of the Pinwheel Galaxy, or also known as M101, combines data in the infrared, visible, ultraviolet and X-rays from four of NASA's space-based telescopes. This multi-spectral view shows that both young ...

Spiral Galaxy NGC 3627

July 15, 2013

(Phys.org) —The spiral galaxy NGC 3627 is located about 30 million light years from Earth. This composite image includes X-ray data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory (blue), infrared data from the Spitzer Space Telescope ...

Image: The NGC 5194 spiral galaxy

January 28, 2014

The Whirlpool Galaxy, also known as M51 or NGC 5194, is one of the most spectacular examples of a spiral galaxy. With two spiral arms curling into one another in a billowing swirl, this galaxy hosts over a hundred billion ...

Centaurus A: A new look at an old friend

February 6, 2014

(Phys.org) —Just weeks after NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory began operations in 1999, the telescope pointed at Centaurus A (Cen A, for short). This galaxy, at a distance of about 12 million light-years from Earth, contains ...

Looking back to the cradle of our universe

February 10, 2014

(Phys.org) —NASA's Spitzer and Hubble Space Telescopes have spotted what might be one of the most distant galaxies known, harkening back to a time when our universe was only about 650 million years old (our universe is ...

Image: X-raying the cosmos

April 22, 2014

When we gaze up at the night sky, we are only seeing part of the story. Unfortunately, some of the most powerful and energetic events in the Universe are invisible to our eyes – and to even the best optical telescopes.

Recommended for you

Saturn and Enceladus produce the same amount of plasma

February 12, 2016

The first evidence that Saturn's upper atmosphere may, when buffeted by the solar wind, emit the same total amount of mass per second into its magnetosphere as its moon, Enceladus, has been found by UCL scientists working ...

Gravitational waves found, black-hole models led the way

February 11, 2016

Gravitational waves were predicted by Einstein's theory of general relativity in 1916, and now, almost exactly 100 years later, the faint ripples across space-time have been found. The advanced Laser Interferometric Gravitational-wave ...

The 'glitching' of the Vela pulsar

February 9, 2016

(Phys.org)—A team of Australian astronomers has conducted an intensive observation of a curious young pulsar to investigate changes in its rotation frequency known as 'glitching'. Located about 910 light years from the ...

Earth-like planets have Earth-like interiors

February 8, 2016

Every school kid learns the basic structure of the Earth: a thin outer crust, a thick mantle, and a Mars-sized core. But is this structure universal? Will rocky exoplanets orbiting other stars have the same three layers? ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.