Saturday, September 30, 2006

Astrophotographer takes amazing picture

This picture will probaby be all over the Internet soon, but I still think it is worth blogging about here. A French astrophotographer named Thierry Legault took this image using a (serious) hobbyist-grade, ground-based telescope with digital camera attached. We've all been spoiled, maybe even jaded, by the Hubble Space Telescope images in recent years, so it is nice to see Earth-bound telescopes accomplishing amazing things as well. This version is reduced in size, but if you follow the article link (below), you can see an enlarged version that lets you see the Space Shuttle Atlantis and the International Space Station (ISS) against the Sun. It really gives one pause to consider the relative sizes of the objects considering that they are some 93 million miles (150 million km) apart!

Of course, this was not taken with typical mass-produced (Chinese-made) optics mounted in a plastic tube. I haven't seen the specifications of his set-up, but the cost mentioned in the newspaper article (5,000 GBP or a little under 10,000 USD) probably means lambda 6 or better glass (that was tested, not "claimed", to be lambda 6, as some disreputable distributors and manufacturers often do).
Aside: By using lambda in this way, I mean the measure of the wavefront integrity of the light as passes through the telescope. The closer it is to perfect the higher the number is. Lamdas of 1 to 3 are what you expect from mass-produced consumer-grade scopes. Lamda 6 from serious amatuer scopes. Lambda 12 is military grade. And lambda 20 is simply amazing to look through. High lambda telescope optics usually come from Russia, although I have also seen high-quality binocular assemblies from Japan. My comments are based on my personal experience and if you have a different opinion, please speak up as I am always interested in learning more about high-end optics and astronomy.
Taken all together, good quality glass, good quality digital camera, probably some image enhancement (frame averaging), decent weather, perserverence, and a keen interest in astronomy combine to give us this eye-catching image. My congratulations go out to Mr. Legault.

(Image source: the Daily Mail (UK))

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