Article Last revised: 06/14/09 Astronomy

   Pluto Challenge: Imaging Results   

Revision Notes:

8/18/00: Created with sample image links.
8/24: Added JAB image link.
8/29: Added DA image link. 9/2: Updated this link.
9/04: It Has Been Done!
12/02: Another prior-art example.
6/5/01: JG's broken link
6/13: JP pics.
7/13: JG's animation is back. 
7/21/02: AstroGeek video capture.
9/10/2004: Gary Clinch's Pluto under Prior Art.
9/14/2005: Thierry REMY Webcam animation image
10/07/2005 Ken Graun film image to beat
7/24/2006: Douglas W. Neal Pluto image. Changed "Prior Art" to "Reference Pluto Images"
09/01/2008: Dr. Tim Wetherell Digiscopes Pluto.

It Has Been Done!   Here's proof that small amateur equipment can image Pluto

CCD Image to Beat
Rick Bria and Angelo Nunez were able to overcome light pollution in their two CCD images of Pluto on August 16th and 20th of 2000.  The results are visible in the animated GIF file to the left -- give it time to load to see all the frames.

The two dated images were through an 80-mm refractor working at 600-mm focal length.  Imaging was unguided on a non-computerized mount.  Shown are cropped 16' x 15' fields from the original 27' x 20' images. North is up and West is right -- just as in a northern hemisphere 'naked eye' view.  Also included is a Space Telescope Science Institute Digitized Survey image to verify the field. The field is centered in RA/DEC at about: 16h40m22s / -11°04'.

Original images and more details here.

Bria/Nunez Pluto images + STSci Digitized Survey reference image.

CCD Runner-Up
Pluto. Copyright 2005 Thierry REMY This amazing Pluto animation was made from stacked images taken through a NexStar-5 with a Philips Vesta Pro web-cam!

Thierry REMY, an expert NexStar-5/webcam imager made the exposures from August 4 to August 8, 2005 in Valdrôme France, at the Société Astronomique de France meeting. Each image was taken under the same conditions at the beginning of night, while waiting for seeing to develop

I added TheSKY6 frame at the end as verification. Pluto was at 13.9-mag and the bright star here is 8.25-mag (SAO 160548). 

Hardware: Vesta Pro NetB sensor 1/4" mode RAW through Celestron NexStar-5 (5"/127 mm) in equatorial mounting + Red 3.3 GAIN 95% - GAMMA 50% - 10 seconds each
Stacking and processing details:
SMEDIAN2 of 51 images | RL 3 3 | UNSHARP 1.5 3 | DDP 200 2 1
Thierry's animation employed IRIS and Animation Shop software.

Original images and French details here.

Thierry REMY Pluto animation + TheSKY6 reference frame.

CCD Digiscope (Afocal imaging)

Dr. Tim Wetherell sent me a Pluto Visual Logbook entry with some confirmation images. I gasped when I realized that he'd used an imaging technique usually reserved for imaging planets, the Moon and birds! 

Focusing a camera/lens onto an eyepiece mounted on a telescope is afocal imaging or Digiscoping. This is usually done with smaller point-and-shoot cameras for imaging bright objects, often using the camera's zoom to frame the target and automatic focus.

This is the first time I've seen Pluto imaged like this. As the point of this imaging was to locate Pluto for a visual small-scope sighting, this submission is the first to end up on both the Visual Logbook (140mm) and Imaging Results pages.

Hardware: TEC 140 APO (980mm nominal f.l.) on equatorial mount, Nikon Coolpix 5000 and 30mm 2" eyepiece

Read about the Images, technique and visual confirmation

Tim Wetherell Pluto + S&T Finder Chart

FILM Image to Beat
After some e-mail correspondence with author and publisher Ken Graun, I visited his What's Out Tonight website and was pleasantly surprised to see this series of Pluto images taken on film with a 4" refractor. (With the rush to digital imaging at the start of the 21st century, I was no longer actively searching for amateur Pluto images on film!)

While fellow Arizonian Clyde Tombaugh imaged Pluto with a 3-element f/5.3 refractor onto very slow speed b&w film, Ken used a 4-element f/5.4 refractor, with a Barlow to achieve f/10.8, to image the planet onto high speed b&w film. Clyde's 13-incher had 10-times the aperture of Ken's scope, but Ken has access to film in the neighborhood of 5-times faster - if not more.

Ken's annotated shots can be viewed here.

Animation of Ken Graun's stills + TheSKY6 reference frame.

Reference Pluto Images  These amateur images were taken with larger instruments than the above.  Use them as a reference comparison.

  • This Pluto animation, by Joe Garlitz, was creating by stacking 15 CCD exposures for each frame!  Imaging was done through an 8" (0.20-m) Newtonian.  Here are some Pluto static shots Joe created.
  • Chris Vedeler nailed down Pluto using a CCD camera through a 10" (0.25-m) SCT.
  • John A. Blackwell took a single 1' exposure though a 8" this June to produce this clear shot.
  • Dave Allmon, using a fast (f/3.3) 10", captured the planet on a modified Quickcam.
  • Richard L. Robinson took these images of Pluto  through an 8" SCT with a MX - 5C CCD. 
  • John Polhamus took these images: each 2 x 60 secs, binned 2x2, with a Meade 8" LX200 and ST7 camera.
  • Demonstrating the light-sensitivity of the new astro-video cameras, AstroGeek, from Massachusetts, capture this Pluto image with an Astrovid StellaCam. It was taken through a Celestron C-11 and captured with a Snappy frame grabber. Processing was done with Photoshop. Imaged on July 17, 2002. (I estimate the field at a bit less-than 0.2-deg wide).
  • Gary Clinch took these successive CCD images of Pluto with an ST-7XE and LX200 under a bright Moon.
  • Douglas W. Neal found Pluto with a Meade 8" LX90 and Canon Rebel XT digital SLR.

STScI Digitized Sky Survey images are copyright (c) 1995-2000 by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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