"Amateur" astronomers capture Jupiter, Charon

By Phil Plait | October 28, 2008 10:50 pm

The definition of a professional astronomer is one who gets paid to do it. But the difference between that and an amateur, who technically does it for fun, is getting hard to tell.

Take this image of Pluto and its moon Charon taken by so-called amateur astronomers Antonello Medugno and Daniele Gasparri from Italy:

Pluto and Charon from amateurs

The bright blob on the right is Pluto, and Charon is on the left. The separation is 0.7 arcseconds, an incredible feat (the Moon is 2500 times wider than this in the sky). This is definitely Charon; it’s at the correct position, separation, and brightness. They nailed it.

Mind you, Charon wasn’t even discovered until 1978 by a pro, using a 61 inch telescope! The image above was using a 14″ telescope, and is in fact much better than the discovery image. In 30 years of progress, a much smaller commercial telescope can do better than a professional setup could. Wow.

Also, an amateur used an iPhone (and a telescope) to capture this image of Jupiter:

iPhone image of Jupiter

Sure, it’s not the best, but c’mon, it was taken with an iPhone.

We live in the future. Still no flying cars, but we live in the future.

Edited to add: I did not include any of the technical descriptions of the Charon image, and I should have.

Equipment: Meade L200GPS 14″ at f/25, with a Starlight Xpress SXV-H9 CCD
Image scale: 0.15″/pixel, unbinned
Exposure: 6 seconds/frame
Filters: R +Ir (Baader)
Final image: 21 frames, median combined, deconvolved to enhance sharpness

At the time, Pluto was 31 AU away, at a mag of 13.9 and Charon was mag 15.5. The images were taken on August 19, 2008.

Charon image credit: Coelum Astronomia, Daniele Gasparri, and Antonello Medugno

Jupiter credit: Mac Observer.

Tip o’ the dew shield to Davide De Martin and Anthony Bossuyt.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, Pretty pictures

Comments (63)

  1. Davidlpf

    So is Jupiter is a new class of planet an iplanet.


    All I get to see here in London, UK, is the Moon and Aurora Londinilis! :roll:

  3. Andrew

    Thats absolutely wonderful. I love stuff like that.

  4. I am in awe. Those photos are awesome.

    I’m not sure when I realised we lived in the future. Might have been when the mobile phone went from being a yuppy toy to being… I dunno… whatever wearing a watch is? Broadband intertoob certainly helped. I was looking at some photos of me as a toddler in the 60s and by golly it looks a long time ago. Sometime in the 70s we quietly became “modern”. Up until that point nothing much had changed for the average joe over the previous 60 years. But in the 70s societal changes became obvious and that prepared us for where we are now. The “future”.

    I dunno what you mean by not having flying cars? I got mine to fly once. Only once though and I was able to walk away from it. :-)

  5. This makes me miss having a telescope of my own. :(

    I want to take pictures like that with my phone! Usually I just use my phone to take pictures of me. Pics of a planet would be exponentially more awesome!

  6. Daniel

    Where is my flying car?! Weren’t we supposed to have those by 1975?

  7. Rahne

    An iPhone?! Man. Technology is amazing.

  8. Thomas Siefert

    I live in the present, Thomas + one minute lives in the future.

  9. Jeffersonian

    It does feel like we live in the future*. I say that to people all the time and they don’t even have to be much past the age of 20 to feel that way. My nonogenarian grandmother in Broomfield died this past year and in our last conversation she mentioned that the last 10 years felt more like the future than any decade she experienced.

    *not just in technology but in terms of societal tolerance as well. Or are they perhaps intrinsic?
    Still, what seeker of knowledge can imagine being without the internet. Life just wasn’t the same, preweb.

  10. stopgap

    That is an awesome shot. It makes me want to finish my 10 inch dob in a hurry.

  11. TheWalruss

    I love the future!

    My favorite part? Intart00bs bringing me astronomy pictures!

  12. baryogenesis

    I live in the midst of a large, light-polluted city and that cellphone image of Jupiter is not that far off from what I see with my 6″ dob.

  13. RJ

    An iPhone??? Just wow…

    And the other one…again wow doesn’t seem to be enough but then again, speachless would be an accurate description of myself at the moment.

  14. quasidog

    That’s pretty cool. That image looks about the same as I get in my homemade 10″ dob by eye ( the iphone shot), just not as blurry. I guess that jsut shows how good even really cheap cameras are now. Years ago you would be paying thousands for a cooled ccd that would give a similar result in a small scope, not including stacking. Awesome.

  15. Thomas,

    You may enjoy this story by Robert Silverberg then. “{Now + n, Now – n}“. Podcast on Escape Pod last year.

    Click my name for the link.

  16. CanadianLeigh

    @ Shane,
    I will date myself here a bit. When I was a young boy we lived in the Trinity phone exchange in Vancouver. To dial my aunt in the same exchange we only had to dial the last 5 digits. My father before me did not see his first motor vehicle until he was 13 years old. In fact the only store bought food they ate was flour, sugar, and yeast for baking. Every thing else they either shot, pulled out of the lake, or grew in their gardens. My dad’s first paying job was hand splitting ties for the CP rail with his older brother. The money they made was spent on pipe so they could install running water for my grandmother. For my dad to go from that life to watching man walk on the moon and having a home computer really hits me as a indication of how fast technology is changing. I hope to live long enough to see man on Mars. If I do that will be from horse and canoe to landing on another planet in two generations.
    The photo gives me something to strive for when it comes to astrophotography. I am just starting out at that side of the hobby.

  17. Ad Hominid

    .7 arc-seconds. At 10 miles distance, this would be right around 2.1 inches.

    Incredible. I rejoice that I have lived to see this world of 2008, even with its many faults and fears. It is not what we expected back in the 50s when I first became aware of science, but it is the future and it is better and more remarkable in many respects than anyone could have guessed.

  18. Ad Hominid

    I know someone who might like to comment on this later today.

    My maternal grandmother is is still very much with us at age 104. She can remember seeing Halley’s comet in 1910 and the first airplane to fly in Texas in 1911. Grandma is still quite alert and lives in her own home, though she is obviously a little frail physically.

    In many ways she is more forward looking and mentally active than my parents. She taught science in the public schools and retired around the time of the first Moon landing. She says that pure curiosity is one of the things that has kept her alive and active for so long.
    I am 61 and, needless to say, it is a great and nearly unique privilege to have a living grandparent at my age.

  19. Grand Lunar

    Coolness! Shows what dedicated amatuers can do.

  20. Mark

    Ok, I can make out some of Jupiter’s cloud bands at about a 40 degree angle. Are those some of the moons in the right side of the frame?

  21. Ganymede, Io & Europa according the link.

  22. Michiel

    Mind you that flying cars are not far of either: http://www.moller.com !

  23. For centuries people relied on horses for transportation. In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s the car and airplane were invented. Just 100 measly years later, we can launch a robotic probe into space, wing it around several planets at exactly the right angles to give it the proper speed boosts, and thread the craft between two of Saturn’s rings en route to a proper orbit. The technology and know-how we have developed since the Wright brothers’ first flight is staggering. The pace of technological progress is picking up dramatically! I’m one of those people who perpetually regret they were not born 100 years from now, because who knows what we will be able to accomplish by then?

  24. TheWalruss

    IIRC, according to Ray Kurzweil, most of us born after, say, 1980, will live to join the human-internet hive-mind by 2099 or something, effectively making us immortal.
    Living in the “elbow” of technological development is probably the most exciting thing possible – in any epoch ever.

  25. Pluto and Charon? Come on people, that’s clearly the USS Discovery from 2001!

  26. Annette

    GumbyTheCat: “I‚Äôm one of those people who perpetually regret they were not born 100 years from now, because who knows what we will be able to accomplish by then?”

    I know what you mean.. I do not fear death in the slightest, I just fear not living long enough to see what happens next (scientifically). Although I’m only 25, it kinda saddens me that we are in the age of knowing we are capable of sending people on space exploration… but we’re just not doing it at the capacity of my liking.

    Maybe it is because I can’t even really remember a time without Hubble Telescope pictures and personal computers, so to me we’re in a bit of a dry spell with no crazy new breakthroughs. I wish our generation had something as awe inspiring as a moon landing.

  27. Annette

    TheWalruss Says:

    “IIRC, according to Ray Kurzweil, most of us born after, say, 1980, will live to join the human-internet hive-mind by 2099 or something, effectively making us immortal”

    I was born in 1983…. I can haz Cylon download now?

  28. Actually.. if you go by a ‘check list’ of the future, the following things ALL EXIST even if they’re either available only at extreme cost or not commercially at all:
    – Laser weapons
    – Flying cars (there’s that guy that pops up on discovery channel and stuff occasionally, i think they cost like 500 thousand dollars)
    – jetpacks
    – Private space missions
    – space bases
    – Humanoid robots
    – Personal service robots (everything from robot vacuum cleaners to ice machines built into the fridge)
    and, the thing very little sci fi predicted: the internet

  29. NASA really needs to hear about this. They can solve all of their camera issues by building Hubble2 out of store-bought telescopes and iPhones!

  30. Ted H.

    Isn’t one of the lights off the correct plane to be a moon? The middle one on the right.

  31. Red alert

    In front of the great shot o Pluto-Charon you’re chattering about the Jupiter Iphone?

  32. 0.7 arcsec with a 14″ scope under good seeing conditions is not that hard – if you are dealing with moderately bright stars. But Charon is 17th magnitude! At, say f/20, that would require some seriously sensitive CCD, and an intensely steady mount. Want.

    The future iz us. The rate of technical innovation is huge. LHC. Prototype quantum computers. 50 terabyte flash drives. Ubiquitous GPS and cell phones. But there is also a growing divide between the bleeding edge of progress and the unwashed masses who seem to be an underclass bread to consume, and thus fund more tech development. Smacks a bit of Brave New World…

  33. Wow! Makes me want to break out the Celestron again, were it not for the darned Delaware overcast. And DuPont pollution. And Wilmington light pollution.

  34. I like living in the future. I’m 31, and only 1 of my grandparents is alive now, and he has Alzheimer’s. But I remember my grandmother talking about how her family moved from North Dakota to northern Alberta by car in winter. There were no good roads, and the journey took a couple weeks or so. Now, it can be done in a day on good roads, if you start early enough in the morning and keep going late at night. The cars then were not very strong, and no heat. Now, I live in Japan, I commute by train that has LCD information screens above each door, and I check the weather forecast, train schedule, email, news, and play games on my cell phone. My cell phone even has video phone capabilities. Amazing how technology has advanced so far.

  35. Wow, no wonder I’m so behind! I tend to live in the present myself.


  36. Annette said, I wish our generation had something as awe inspiring as a moon landing.
    I wouldn’t sweat it too much. No other generation has had anything as awe inspiring… Except for when Og discovered fire I suppose, that would have been sweet.

  37. ‚ÄúAmateur‚ÄĚ astronomers capture Jupiter, Charon

    Are they demanding ransom?

  38. kuhnigget

    Jupiter with an iphone…meh!

    Now if it was one o’ them new googlephones, you could zoom right in there and get a ground level view of Io, all vocanoey like!

  39. David

    My Grandmother used to tell me that the future happened in 1969.

    Grandma died 5 years ago, she was 97 years old.

    But in July of 1969 at the age of 63 my grandmother made me come inside from playing and sit down and watch TV for hours. She told me “We are about to walk on the moon. This is the future. You have to be a part of this. This is how things will be for the rest of your life.”

    This was from a woman who rode in her first car when she was 19 years old. She didn’t cook anything in a microwave until she was 80. She stopped making calls on the telephone when she was 85 because they took away her dial phone. She rode on her first airplane when she was 75. But in her mind Neil Armstrong wasn’t going to walk on the moon. “We” were all going to walk on the moon.

    Grandma lived through some amazing times – two world wars, the great depression, computers, car, airplanes and none of it phased her. But she knew that a moon landing was the future and she wasn’t going to let me miss it. I just wish that she had been more correct with her prediction. In 1969 the moon landing was the future. Now it has become ancient history.

    I feel sorry for my children, they are growing up with all this neato wizbang technology and they expect it to change so fast. They have become so used to technological innovation that when they see things like this picture show up their response is “so what” he had a good telescope.” Like anyone who wanted to take the time, could do the same thing.

    We really need a Mars Landing. Something to jar this younger generation out of their complacency and blind acceptance of the future they are living in right now.

  40. Cheyenne

    Wow- nice job on the Pluto pic! Gasparri’s website (that is linked up above) has tons of other cool shots.

  41. rob

    that photo of jupiter is obviously a model!! it is FAKED!

    jupiter has a big red spot and that photo is grayscale. if it was real, it would be in color!!!

    also! why don’t you see stars in the picture! jupiter is up in the sky with lots of stars!!! you should see stars!!

    and! the angle of the shadows on the clouds is wrong! those are likely the result of multiple sources of light!! this was obviously shot by shadowy government types in the desert studio built at a now abandoned air force base!!

  42. amphiox

    Gumbythecat: And if you were born 100 years for now, you’d be wishing you were born 200 years from now. . . . I know that feeling, man.

    The tech for flying cars has been around for a couple decades already at least. It’s the infrastructure and traffic control that isn’t there yet. How many of our current fellow drivers would we actually trust with a flying car?

  43. rob

    hmmm…a flying carful of ipod and text message distracted teenagers…

  44. Laura

    It’s incredible! It seems that nobody or almost nobody realized what separate Pluto and Charon with amatorial equipment mean. I’m stunned!

    Such a great challenge (this is the first amatorial image of Charon in the world!!!!) comparated to …. an iphone image!

  45. drksky

    @amphiox – I don’t trust most people behind the wheel of a car, much less an 8000lb SUV. If flying cars become a reality, I’m gonna move to an underground bunker.

  46. My-Name-is-Kenneth

    Everyone is going to go underground and live in their own little VR worlds, and all progress will stop.

    That is why we can’t find any ETI – they are all living VR lives.

  47. Andy Beaton

    Truly awesome. It takes serious equipment and an amazing amount of skill to get an image like that.

    As for the future, I decided I was living there when I could pay my phone bill over the internet, without ever touching money or going within 5 miles of my bank.

  48. Donnie B.

    Alien (looking at Pluto/Charon picture): What is it?

    Mr. Scott (blearily): … It’s grrreen!

  49. USB

    One question:

    Is there a telescope with a camera incorporated and a USB port so we can move the pics from it to the pc easily?

    I’d buy one for sure

  50. Amateur astronomy is the result of one of man’s oldest endeavors. 200 millenia ago our great-great (x100k) grandfathers and grand mothers looked up at the night sky and began to ask questions. This fascination didn’t end when we began to name and recognize objects overhead. It stuck with us. Even though Newton and Keppler told us why they move the way they do, we still look. We look because it is awesome. Yes, AWESOME. These two Italians and untold numbers of others others like them are continuing to do what we have always done, look up and ponder the sky. Medugno and Gasparri remind us that in and of itself, skywatching is at its core, an integral part of what it means to be human.

  51. Mike

    Dude, i know, it’s just done with an iPhone. But, you can’t compare Jupiter with Pluto, you really can’t

  52. Craig

    We live in the future. Still no flying cars, but we live in the future.

    As William Gibson put it: the future is already here. It’s just not very evenly distributed.

  53. Simmons

    To be fair, the discovery photo was taken on with photoplates, peaking at 2% of incoming light imaged, were as a cheap CCD these days can get around 70%, which varys, the dark sky lab im working at now is a 90% effcient, meaning it captures 45 times more light, which is the equivilent of increasing the diameter on a photoplate scope. the iphones use as a CCD is fine, its the exact same chip technology, probably just lower quality, it’d be more on the telescope to collect light then the iphones ability to take a picture. My sophemore year working on a .8m (16inch) scope i took images around that quality, its not “hard” with the tools at your disposal. That said, astronomy isn’t easy, and they do deserve props for a great image. Maybe these guys can get some professional stuff done, taking pictures like that is a pretty strong start.

  54. Ed Bride

    What’s the big deal about the iPhone? It had little to do with the quality or size of the image. It took a photo of something in a telescope. A $20 digital standalone camera could have done just as well, probably better.

  55. this is awesome. really cool that they were able to take pics like that with a subpar camera

  56. TomDooley

    Well said, Ed Bride!

    >”What‚Äôs the big deal about the iPhone?”

  57. Gallo-leo

    We need to quit patting ourselves on the back and read “The Long Emergency.” Our unprecedented technological explosion has been based on a dwindling resource and benefits a relatively small percentage of the world population and the downside is obvious. This may have been a flash in the pan. Wait and see.

  58. wat happed to juptier you guys look out for that thing becaue it can at the rist


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