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Rolf Olsen | all galleries >> Astrophotography >> Stars > The debris disc around Beta Pictoris
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The debris disc around Beta Pictoris

I have taken a much better image of the circumstellar disc now.
Please see the updated image here:

This image shows the famous debris disc of debris and dust orbiting the star Beta Pictoris 63.4 light years away. This is a very young system thought to be only around 12 million years old and is essentially similar to 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.
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. The main difficulty is the overwhelming glare from Beta Pictoris itself which completely drowns out the dust disc that is circling very close to the star. 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.
But recently I then found this 1993 paper 'Observation of the central part of the beta Pictoris disk with an anti-blooming CCD' (Lecavelier des Etangs, A., Perrin, G., Ferlet, R., Vidal-Madjar, A., Colas, F., et al., 1993, A&A, 274, 877)
Full article available here:

I then realised that it might not be entirely impossible to also record this object with my own equipment. I followed the technique described in the paper above, 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. 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.

Next step was to capture a similar image of a reference star under the same conditions. For this purpose I used Alpha Pictoris as the paper suggested. This star is of nearly the same spectral type (A7IV compared to Beta's A6V) and is also close enough to Beta in the sky so that the slight change in telescope orientation should not affect the diffraction pattern. However, since the two stars have different magnitudes I needed to calculate how long to expose Alpha for in order to get a similar image which I could subtract from the Beta image.

The magnitude difference between the stars is 3.86(Beta) - 3.30(Alpha) = 0.56
Due to the logarithmic nature of the magnitude scale we know that a difference of 1 magnitude equals a brightness ratio of 2.512. Therefore 2.512 to the power of the numerical magnitude difference then equals the variation in brightness.
2.512^0.56 = 1.67, so it appears Alpha is 1.67 times brighter than Beta. This means that exposure for Alpha should be 1/1.67 = 0.597x that of Beta. I took the liberty of using 0.6x for simplicity's sake...
So I collected 55 images of 18 seconds (30 x 0.6) for Alpha.

Both sets of images were stacked separately in Registax and I then imported these into Photoshop, layered Alpha in 'Difference' mode on top of Beta and flattened the result. This produces a very dark image (which it should!) apart from the different background stars. But after some curves adjustment I was able to see clear signs of the actual dust disc protruding on both sides from the glare of the star. I was very happy to conclude that the position angle with regards to the background stars matched the official images exactly.
This raw Difference image looked rather horrible though, so to produce a more natural looking result I took the original stacked Beta image and then blended in the central parts from the Difference image that showed the dust disc. I decided to also keep the black spot of the central glare from the Difference image since the contrast with the protruding disc seems better this way.

And the result is, I believe, the first amateur image of another solar system: The debris disc around Beta Pictoris. I must say it feels really special to have actually captured this.

(In the image the dashed line indicates the true disc plane)

other sizes: small medium original auto
SmartmilToys.com12-Nov-2016 13:07
Fantastic debris disc!!!
Wendy K. Dayne04-Feb-2013 14:40
wow! This is incredible. I can't believe it involves plenty of steps to process an image like this. Kudos, Rolf!!
Mike 26-Sep-2012 21:53
I dont see the people running around the planets?
Rob Craftsman01-Aug-2012 21:39
For a self-proclaimed first amateur (are you sure?? this is really good) pic of another solar system, this is really stunning. You are rightfully special to have accomplished this. Heck, I feel special at having witnessed it here.
Guest 27-Jun-2012 08:43
air ambulance20-Jun-2012 20:40
Guest 12-Jun-2012 06:30
Well done.That is very impressive.
John Izzo 03-Dec-2011 19:30
Congratulations. While I am not an amateur astronomer, I appreciate all of you watching the skies for us. I love looking at the images. Truly specatacular. Keep up the good work.
RJW 03-Dec-2011 04:33
This is even better than seeing Russia from my house!
Freddy WILLEMS 03-Dec-2011 01:06
Are you going to give it another try to see how the 'planets' have moved ??
Freddy WILLEMS 03-Dec-2011 01:04
Very well done Rolf !! Truly amazing with a 10"
Guest 03-Dec-2011 01:01
congrats on a great catch
KEL02-Dec-2011 15:11
Congratulations and Thank you!
I am posting the photo with it's frame on my blog with some information about you/the photo and links to this page and also some information about Alain Lecavelier des Etangs "call" to aamateurs..
If it is not ok to post the photo please email me
Thank you!
KEL02-Dec-2011 15:10
Congratulations and Thank you!
I am posting the photo with it's frame on my blog with some information about you/the photo and links to this page and also some information about Alain Lecavelier des Etangs "call" to aamateurs..
If it is not ok to post the photo please email me
Thank you!
Bob LeMay 02-Dec-2011 14:59
I'm glad I found your site, and your description, as the news articles give no information about how it was shot, or what the objects in the photo are (the long rays, the other "dots", or even the dotted lines!) or why there is a black dot in the middle! Another strike for the popular science press.
Guest 02-Dec-2011 09:37
This is so cool, I have no astronomy experience, but this just wants me to run to a store and buy a beginners telescope! ;-) Great job! KR, Ronald
Guest 02-Dec-2011 04:55
I’m a die hard visual astronomer and this is the first time I seriously consider experimenting with astrophotography. Congratulations on such impressive achievement. (Jose from Mexico)
Franck Marchis 01-Dec-2011 01:30
great work!!!! I am impressed that amateur astronomer can today reach the imaging capability that we had in the 1990s. One small correction though. You did not image another "solar system" but another "planetary system" or "stellar system". There is only one Sun and that's the one we see nearby Earth.
Thomas Jensen 30-Nov-2011 20:26
Fantastisk! Et stort tillykke fra Danmark.
Guest 30-Nov-2011 20:24
Amazing work - Congrats

Chris Pike 30-Nov-2011 19:23
Very cool! Great work!
Matt Marshall 30-Nov-2011 17:19
Extraordinary work. Congratulations from a mere enthusiast to a very impressive amateur astronomer. Keep up the good work and I wouldn't be surprised to see your title shift from amatuer to professional astronomer!
Paul H. 30-Nov-2011 07:43
After Gliese 581g and Proxima Centuri, Beta Pictoris should be a priorty destination when humanity masters interstellar travel:)

Congradulations man!
Rajiv Verma 29-Nov-2011 23:47
You are an inspiration to fellow amateur, great work!
Jim T 29-Nov-2011 21:37
Congratulations Rolf. Outstanding achievement. Must be quite a thrill!
Arvind 29-Nov-2011 21:26
Great Work Rolf. This is unbelievable.
Being an amateur and finding/imaging a solar system is way too cool.
Davo 29-Nov-2011 21:18
That guy Sumi does not understand the relationship between distance and age. However when I look at it while I'm squinting, I think it looks like a sideways rabbit caught in the headlights of a car. You better take another picture dude!
Tom 29-Nov-2011 18:48
Be proud of that. You really set a mark!!! Thanks for that great picture. Greetings from germany.
Guest 29-Nov-2011 16:04
Awesome! Spectacular work! T. Peige Wise
Tonny 29-Nov-2011 15:47
Yeahhhhhhh great, feeling must be amazing
Alain Lecavelier des Etangs 29-Nov-2011 13:51
Dear Mr Olsen,

First: CONGRATULATION for this great image of the Beta Pictoris dust disk !!

This image remembers me when (with Guy Perrin, Alfred Vidal-Madjar, François Colas and others) we obtained very similar images in 1992. It was a great time. I have no doubt that this is really the disk of Beta Pic that you have in your image: its looks so similar to what we obtained. Captured with a 10" telescope, your image represents a very nice achievement and a technical exploit. CONGRATULATION!!

As I wrote to a journalist asking me, I feel that it is unlikely that your image can be used to learn something new about this Beta Pictoris system. But this is not the most important: the most important is that your image is impressive and beautiful. A beautiful image of a young planetary system 62 light-years away, a beautiful image among other beautiful images in your pbase galleries.

Nonetheless, your work shows that amateur can obtain results which are potentially useful for scientists. In particular, I think about transit of exoplanets some of which can be surveyed by amateur astronomers. By the way, this gives me the opportunity to send a call for photometric survey of Beta Pictoris, which can be done by (expert) amateurs. Indeed, in 1994 we discovered that a planet likely transited in front of Beta Pictoris in 1981. In 1994, the claim for the observation of a transiting exoplanet was regarded as very suspicious. But the things have changed, and since 2008 we know that a planet orbits around Beta Pictoris (Lagrange et al. 2008), moreover the imaged planet is very consistent with a transit in 1981 (Lecavelier & Vidal-Madjar 2009). To predict when the next transit will happen a survey of Beta Pictoris photometry is needed. In that regard, the help from amateur can be useful.

A comment: in contrary to the title of the photo, the Beta Pictoris disk is not "protoplanetary", this is a "debris disk". The dust seen in the image is not massive enough for a new planet to form. This dust is produced by collision between asteroids and/or evaporation of comets: the dusty grains captured in your photo are the debris of minor bodies orbiting in a young and active planetary system, similar to our own solar system when it was a few million years old.

Congratulation again !

Alain Lecavelier des Etangs
Guest 29-Nov-2011 13:05
congratulations, Spectacular!
Guest 29-Nov-2011 10:11
I take my hat off to you sir! Fantastic picture and great achievement!
Guest 29-Nov-2011 08:55
Superb work. More please!
apastor 28-Nov-2011 22:47
Great job my friend. I also discover such a thing. But I never mentioned it.
This is the prove that individuals like us and you are competent to make
experitments of the cosmos. God will show us more within a short time.

I feel myself connetcted

André Pastor
Fernando Gois 28-Nov-2011 22:41
Congratulations Mr Olsen! Today the amateur astronomers make importante jobs at astrophotography...!
Fernando Gois (from Madeira Islands/Portugal)
Guest 28-Nov-2011 21:57
dear mr. olsen,
i would like to ask for your kind permission to show your images in a report about your achievement in my blog ( please could you get in contact with my - as i was unable to find out a contact-adress to you.
many thanks and best wishes
Robert 28-Nov-2011 21:55
If I understand things correctly, you just followed the procedure described in the original 1993 paper, and achieved the same results? Well, that certainly deserves congratulations!
Marco Eschler 28-Nov-2011 19:17
Real great job!! I placed it on Facebook
Van den Broek 28-Nov-2011 18:16
From the Netherlands,
Great job! keep the good work going!
Baal 28-Nov-2011 17:54
From Spain, my most sincere congratulations...
Desde España, mi mas sincera enhorabuena...
Juan 28-Nov-2011 16:48
Felicidades desde España, es un gran trabajo.
Congratulations from Spain. It is a great job.

johnny 28-Nov-2011 16:45
I´m very happy for you.. thanks,,, and,, continue!!.. Felicidades, compañero,, !!!-..
Sumi 28-Nov-2011 16:13
Hey guys... I have a doubt... If my understanding is right, how can a 12million year old system be visible from a distance of 60 million years ???
sea2kcom 28-Nov-2011 15:48
Enhorabuena y a seguir!
Congratulations and follow on with it!
news 28-Nov-2011 13:31
Muy bien, LPR News.
Diego 28-Nov-2011 09:58
Felicidades por ese logro un saludo desde argentina
Guest 28-Nov-2011 03:12
..that is eff-ing awesome work. Please consider contacting the '93 authors, and see if they'll co-author a p-reviewed paper with you!
David Hrstich 28-Nov-2011 01:19
Extraordinary. An outstanding achievement, well done! 27-Nov-2011 21:13
incredible! wow and thanks!!!
Jacqueline 27-Nov-2011 20:01
Congratulations! That's really special. Thanks for sharing it :D
Michelle 27-Nov-2011 19:56
Hi Rolf, great work. I'm keen to have a chat with you about it if you could contact me on 044740527 or at Thanks, Michelle Cooke (journalist for Fairfax NZ)
Chris McKitterick 27-Nov-2011 16:05
Fantastic work, congratulations! You're an inspiration to amateur astrophotographers everywhere.
mag10 27-Nov-2011 15:47
All this done without adaptive optics! I'm fllored.
Guest 27-Nov-2011 14:31
Wow! Spectacular! Now only if we can contact some intelligent life there! Our planet desperately needs it!
shonangreg 27-Nov-2011 09:35
What if you applied the same image processing techniques to images from Hubble? Could you not refine the already amazing picture you have here? And I assume the image above is the highest resolution you have? Saving the image to my PC and zooming in on it just fills my imagination with the details that aren't there.
Guest 27-Nov-2011 04:04
Guest 26-Nov-2011 23:09
Inspiring work Rolf….congratulations
Babalau 26-Nov-2011 21:59
really nice... you'll remain in History for doing this!

Try to nail more photos like this!
Ken 26-Nov-2011 21:17
Guest 26-Nov-2011 20:26
A very impressive endeavour - well done.

Steve Richards
Bob 26-Nov-2011 19:09
Heck yeah! A fantastic accomplishment! Congrats!
jm26-Nov-2011 05:33
Think outside the box, and you'll get this kind of outcome. Well done mate.
Guest 26-Nov-2011 04:56
Outstanding work Rolf!!!! Glad to see work like this from the ranks of us amateurs.
Patrick Harrold - a.k.a. Astrodude
strongmanmike200220-Nov-2011 04:37
Well that's pretty special Rolf! great project, congratulations!
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