AN amateur astronomer Rolf Wahl Olsen from New Zealand shared an image with Universe Sunday, and it is perhaps the first image of another solar system taken by an amateur.
The image is Olsens image of the protoplanetary disc around Beta Pictoris.
For the last couple of years I have been wondering if it was possible for amateurs to capture this special target but have never come across any such images, Olsen wrote in an email.
I must say it feels really special to have actually captured this.
Olsen said he has been fascinated by professional images of Beta Pictoris since seeing the first one in taken in 1984.
Beta Pictoris and the protoplanetary disc of debris and dust that is orbiting the star is 63.
4 light years away from Earth.
This is a very young system thought to be only around 12 million years old and astronomers think this is essentially how our own Solar System must have formed some 4.
5 billion years ago.
The disc is seen edge-on from our perspective and appears in professional images as thin wedges or lines protruding radially from the central star in opposite directions.
The main difficulty in imaging this system is the overwhelming glare from Beta Pictoris itself which completely drowns out the dust disc that is circling very close to the star, Olsen said.
Images of the disc taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, and from big observatories, are usually made by physically blocking out the glare of Beta Pictoris itself within the optical path.
I then realised that it might not be entirely impossible to also record this object with my own equipment, Olsen said.
So now that Beta Pictoris has risen to a favorable position in this years evening sky I decided to have a go at it the other day.
UT He followed the technique described in the paper, which basically consists of imaging Beta and then taking another image of a similar reference star under the same conditions.
The two images are subtracted from each other to eliminate the stellar glare, and the dust disc should then hopefully reveal itself.
First I collected 55 images of Beta Pictoris at 30 seconds each, Olsen said.
The dust disc is most prominent in IR so ideally a better result would be expected with the use of an IR pass filter.
Since I only have a traditional IR/UV block filter I just imaged without any filter, to at least get as much IR light through as possible.
UT

This news was published in The Nation newspaper. Read complete newspaper of 28-Nov-2011 here.