September 4, 2007 12:48 PM PDT

'Lucky' camera boosts telescope

'Lucky' camera boosts telescope
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Photographers take multiple shots to reduce the chance that pictures will be marred by blinking or grimacing subjects. Now astronomers are applying the same technique to improve images of distant objects.

Scientists at the University of Cambridge in the U.K. and California Institute of Technology have developed a "lucky imaging" technique that takes large numbers of pictures to get around the problem that Earth's atmosphere degrades image quality. That technique relies on a high-speed camera that takes as many as 20 images per second, then on a computer that sifts out the sharpest and combines them into a final view.

"These are the sharpest images ever taken either from the ground or from space," lead researcher Craig Mackay of the University of Cambridge's Institute of Astronomy said in a statement.

The technique has produced sharper images than those in space and is vastly less expensive. The 200-inch Hale Telescope at Caltech's Palomar Observatory, built in the 1940s, ordinarily produces images 10 times less detailed than those of the Hubble Space Telescope. But the lucky camera produces double the resolution--combined with existing technology called adaptive optics that compensates for some atmospheric distortion, the researchers said.

Lucky camera

The technique will work on larger, more modern telescopes such as those at the European Southern Observatory in Chile and the Keck telescopes in Hawaii. "The low cost means that we could apply the process to telescopes all over the world," Mackay said.

Adaptive optics works well for infrared light, but the Hubble beats out the Palomar telescope for light visible to humans. The lucky imaging system produces better material for the adaptive optics system to work with, the researchers said, with the result that the Palomar telescope comes out ahead.

Lucky imaging has been around as a concept since the 1970s, but it's only been possible now through the development of a new generation of image sensors that combine high sensitivity with low electronic "noise" that degrades the image with spurious speckles. The Cambridge-Caltech team used a sensor made by E2V Technologies, the researchers said.

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Old Technology in a new box--not newsworthy
The LAMP system seems to be an interesting application of several technologies that have been around for years and placed them all in use in one system in hi resolution.

For a few thousand dollars an amateur astronomer may utilize the same technologies. Admittedly on a smaller telescope, with lower resolution, but I ask CNET: Is this really news?
Posted by gnhuftalen (6 comments )
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Re: Old Technology in a new box--not newsworthy
"but I ask CNET: Is this really news?"

How is it not news? How many billions have they spent on Hubble? Now we have ground-based systems that are producing double the resolution for a few thousand dollars.

The real news here is that no one thought of doing it sooner, and how many billions of dollars on Hubble could've been re-directed to searching for alternative energy sources, for example.

Of course it's news. It's big news.
Posted by foxmuldr2 (1 comment )
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Old Technology.... Sure
I was suprised to find out something like this hasn't been used up till now. I bought a 5" telescope in December and have been looking at systems that do that on a small scale. Seems strange it would take "real" astronomers this long.
Posted by grayboe (16 comments )
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This article does not say when the astronomers started working on it. No one can come up with an idea today and have it working tomorrow.
Posted by Phillep_H (497 comments )
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Old technology, yes it is.
I have been using a modified web cam on my telescope for over two year now. It creates excellent pictures! If I had money, I could use a ccd camera with much better resolution than the web cam. Why did it take the professionals this long to figure this out?
Posted by mattsdad (5 comments )
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Why not apply the techinque to the Hubble
Okay if it makes earth bound images so much better why not apply the same to the Hubble Telescope and multipy its image quality?
Posted by Strangebuttrue (2 comments )
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