Saturn trick runs rings around photo methods

Paul Stewart has  devised a new way of photographing the stars using   the rings of Saturn.

Paul Stewart has devised a new way of photographing the stars using the rings of Saturn.

A former Wollongong man has devised a new way of photographing the stars using a NASA telescope and the rings of Saturn.

Paul Stewart’s project, called Postcards from the Solar System’s Edge, was recently named the runner-up in the Extreme Imaging photographic competition.

The 33-year-old Smith’s Hill High School graduate, now an astronomy PhD candidate at the University of Sydney, used the light-bending properties of Saturn’s rings to overcome the challenge of studying very remote phenomena.

The many edges within the rings caused a star’s light to ‘‘smear’’ as it passed by, creating samples of what the star looked like. 

‘‘I’m basically taking a NASA space telescope and using it to turn the rings of Saturn into a giant telescope,’’ Mr Stewart said.

‘‘To achieve that same sort of image without this technique, you’d require a telescope that’s about a kilometre across.’’ 

The images are constructed using tomography, a technique common in medical imaging, where pictures of different sections or planes of an object are combined.

Paul Stewart's image of the dying star Mira was runner-up in Canon’s 2014 Extreme Imaging Competition.

Paul Stewart's image of the dying star Mira was runner-up in Canon’s 2014 Extreme Imaging Competition.

Mr Stewart’s competition entry shows the dying star Mira, which is located some 420 light years from earth in the Cetus constellation.

An accompanying ‘‘artist’s impression’’ of Mira draws on the photo to create a crisper rendering, true to the size and composition of the original star.

The Extreme Imaging competition, open to Australian university students who are developing new image-making techniques or equipment as part of their research, is a collaboration between Canon Australia and Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum. 

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