Innovative imaging processing provides sharpest ever images of stars

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A team of astronomers have taken pictures of the stars that are sharper than anything produced by the Hubble telescope, at 50 thousandths of the cost.

The researchers, from the University of Cambridge and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), used a technique called 'Lucky Imaging' to take the most detailed pictures of stars and nebulae ever produced.

The images are even more remarkable because they were taken from a camera based on the ground. Normally, highly accurate images of stars need to be taken from telescopes (such as Hubble) in space, because the disturbances in the atmosphere cause the pictures to blur – the same reason that stars appear to twinkle.

The Cambridge/Caltech team, however, surpassed the quality of images taken from space by using a high-speed camera to take numerous images of the same stars at a rate of 20fps. Because of fluctuations in the atmosphere, some of these were less smeared than others. The team then used computer software to choose the best images, and these were combined to create pictures far sharper than anything that has been taken from space.

Dr Craig Mackay, from the Institute of Astronomy at the University of Cambridge, who led the research, said: 'Amateur Lucky Imaging is popular because the technique is so cheap and effective. The low cost means that we could apply the process to telescopes all over the world.'

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