Treasure Hunting With Astrophotography


Not very long ago we published a news release about the latest (and largest) deep sky survey image ever. The implications behind such a massive undertaking at such incredible resolution means you could spend hours studying just a few square millimeters of such a photo and find any amount of undiscovered information. Do professional astronomers have the time to search? Or can anyone have a look? That’s the topic of the latest of the latest American Astronomical Association press release – ESO: Hidden Treasures Brought to Light. Let’s find out…

According to the release ESO’s Hidden Treasures 2010 astrophotography competition attracted nearly 100 entries, and ESO is delighted to announce the winners. Hidden Treasures gave amateur astronomers the opportunity to search ESO’s vast archives of astronomical data for a well-hidden cosmic gem. Astronomy enthusiast Igor Chekalin from Russia won the first prize in this difficult but rewarding challenge — the trip of a lifetime to ESO’s Very Large Telescope at Paranal, Chile. The pictures of the Universe that can be seen in ESO’s releases are impressive. However, many hours of skillful work are required to assemble the raw gray-scale data captured by the telescopes into these colorful images, correcting them for distortions and unwanted signatures of the instrument, and enhancing them so as to bring out the details contained in the astronomical data. ESO has a team of professional image processors, but for the ESO’s Hidden Treasures 2010 competition, the experts decided to give astronomy and photography enthusiasts the opportunity to show the world what they could do with the mammoth amount of data contained in ESO’s archives.

With amateur astrophotography beginning to play a huge role in astronomical discoveries, just image what you could do with a mountain of data!

The release goes on to state the enthusiasts who responded to the call submitted nearly 100 entries in total — far exceeding initial expectations, given the difficult nature of the challenge. “We were completely taken aback both by the quantity and the quality of the images that were submitted. This was not a challenge for the faint-hearted, requiring both an advanced knowledge of data processing and an artistic eye. We are thrilled to have discovered so many talented people,” said Lars Lindberg Christensen, Head of ESO’s education and Public Outreach Department.

Digging through many terabytes of professional astronomical data, the entrants had to identify a series of gray-scale images of a celestial object that would reveal the hidden beauty of our Universe. The chance of a great reward for the lucky winner was enough to spur on the competitors; the first prize being a trip to ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Paranal, Chile, with guided tours and the opportunity to participate in a night’s observations. Runner-up prizes included an iPod, books and DVDs. Furthermore, the highest ranked images will be released for the world to see on as Photo Releases or Pictures of the Week, co-crediting the winners. The jury evaluated the entries based on the quality of the data processing, the originality of the image and the overall aesthetic feel. As several of the highest ranked images were submitted by the same people, the jury decided to make awards to the ten most talented participants, so as to give more people the opportunity to win a prize and reward their hard work and talent.


Original Source: American Astronomical Society Press Release – Image Credit: ESO

3 Replies to “Treasure Hunting With Astrophotography”

  1. The statement below is from ESO’s Hidden Treasures Instructions page. So it looks like I wouldn’t have been able to participate without making a major time and funds investment – anyway? Hmm… back at it! Thanks!

    “All the data are stored in FITS format. It is therefore critical that you know how to do the astronomical processing for these files, and that you have software that can do it. If you don’t know about this file format or are not interested in finding out more, this competition is probably not for you.”

    1. Please check what that means before making the statement that you have to do major investment. Please do your own research instead of letting the others do the research for you…

      GIMP is free, powerful, and works with FITS
      IrfanView is free, good enough and works with FITS
      FITS Liberator it is a free Photoshop plug-in, that is used also by professional astronomers… so if Photoshop is your big investment, forget about astronomy as a hobby (a telescope a camera and a decent equatorial mount suitable for astrophotography are much more expensive than a Photoshop license)

      Regarding time investment… if there was no time investment, the researchers could have processed the data all by themselves…

  2. Software for editing and viewing FITS files is all freely available, you could check DS9 for a good FITS viewer. Processing can e.g. be done with iraf, which is also free. Iraf can be somewhat difficult to work with at first, but it certainly is doable, and there are a lot of manuals on working with iraf out there, many of them explaining how to do data reduction step by step.

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