'Lucky Camera' takes sharpest ever images of stars

Sep 05, 2007

A team of astronomers led by Cambridge University have taken pictures of the stars that are sharper than anything produced by the Hubble telescope, at 50 thousandths of the cost.

The researchers, from the University of Cambridge and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), used a technique called “Lucky Imaging” to take the most detailed pictures of stars and nebulae ever produced – using a camera based on the ground.

Images from ground-based telescopes are usually blurred by the Earth's atmosphere - the same effect that makes the stars appear to twinkle when we look at them with the naked eye.

The Cambridge/Caltech team, however, surpassed the quality of images taken from space by using a high-speed camera to take numerous images of the same stars at a rate of 20 frames per second. Because of fluctuations in the atmosphere, some of these were less smeared than others. The team then used computer software to choose the best images, and these were combined to create pictures far sharper than anything that has been taken from space.

Dr Craig Mackay, from the Institute of Astronomy at the University of Cambridge, who led the research, said: “To produce images sharper than Hubble from the ground is a remarkable achievement by anyone's standards.

“These are the sharpest images ever taken either from the ground or from space and yet we are essentially using ‘Blue Peter' technology. Amateur Lucky Imaging is popular because the technique is so cheap and effective. The low cost means that we could apply the process to telescopes all over the world.”

The Lucky Imaging technique was first mooted in the late 1970s and has enabled the discovery of many multiple star systems which are too close together and too faint to find with any standard telescope.

Their pictures of the globular star cluster M13, which is 25,000 light years away, are so detailed that they were able to find stars as little as one light day apart. The images of the Cat's Eye Nebula (pictured), were so fine that they could pick out details separated by only a few light hours.

The work was carried out on Mount Palomar, California, using the 200-inch telescope at the Palomar Observatory in conjunction with an adaptive optics system. Like all other ground-based telescopes, the images this produces are typically 10 times less detailed than those produced by Hubble. Using the Lucky Camera, however, it was possible to obtain images that are twice as sharp as those of the space telescope.

The technique could now be used to improve much larger telescopes such as those at the European Southern Observatory in Chile, or the Keck telescopes in the top of Mauna Kea in Hawaii. This has the potential to produce even sharper images.

“The images space telescopes produce are of extremely high quality but they are limited to the size of the telescope,” Dr Mackay added. “Our techniques can do very well when the telescope is bigger than Hubble and has intrinsically better resolution.”

Source: University of Cambridge

Explore further: 'Blockbuster' science images

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Gift Guide: Help your selfie with some add-on gear

8 hours ago

Not all selfies are created equal. Some are blurry, are poorly framed or miss the action entirely because you might be scrubbing your thumb fishing for a virtual shutter button as the moment passes you by.

Mystery of dwarf galaxy could be ejected black hole

Nov 19, 2014

An international team of researchers analyzing decades of observations from many facilities—including the W. M. Keck Observatory on Mauna Kea, the Pan-STARRS1 telescope on Haleakala and NASA's Swift satellite—has ...

Astronomers dissect the aftermath of a supernova

Nov 10, 2014

In research published today in the Astrophysical Journal, an Australian led team of astronomers has used radio telescopes in Australia and Chile to see inside the remains of a supernova.

Recommended for you

'Blockbuster' science images

Nov 21, 2014

At this point, the blockbuster movie Interstellar has created such a stir that one would almost have to be inside a black hole not to know about it. And while the science fiction thriller may have taken some ...

Estimating the magnetic field of an exoplanet

Nov 20, 2014

Scientists developed a new method which allows to estimate the magnetic field of a distant exoplanet, i.e., a planet, which is located outside the Solar system and orbits a different star. Moreover, they ...

It's filamentary: How galaxies evolve in the cosmic web

Nov 20, 2014

How do galaxies like our Milky Way form, and just how do they evolve? Are galaxies affected by their surrounding environment? An international team of researchers, led by astronomers at the University of ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

docknowledge
not rated yet Mar 26, 2009
This is great technology, but the general concept has been clear to astronomers for years -- one might even say centuries. One thing that's slightly annoying is the vague implication that Hubble was a waste of money. There are several reasons why this is not so, among them that Hubble itself can make use of material taken from more than one photograph.

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.