Ground-breaking ground-based images of planets obtained by Pic-Net Pro-Am team
July 20, 2017

Ground-breaking ground-based images of planets obtained by Pic-Net Pro-Am team
Europlanet 2020 RI Press Release
20 July 2017 – For Immediate Release

The first observing run of a collaboration between amateur and professional astronomers to monitor our planetary neighbours has resulted in some of the best planetary images ever taken from the ground.

The ‘Pic-Net’ project aims to use the one-metre diameter planetary telescope at the Pic du Midi Observatory in the French Pyrenees to monitor the meteorology of planets in our Solar System, measure global winds in their atmospheres, monitor impact of minor planet bodies producing giant fireballs in planetary atmospheres, and provide observational support for various space missions. Last month, a small team of amateur astronomers carried out a pilot observing run during a workshop funded by the Europlanet 2020 Research Infrastructure (RI). Superb-quality images of Jupiter, Saturn, Venus and Jupiter’s moon Ganymede were obtained during four nights of observations, as well as images of Uranus and Neptune.

“The key to the success of this project is our highly-experienced team of observers, the optical quality of the telescope, the highly stable atmosphere at the Pic du Midi observatory and cutting-edge instrumentation,” said Francois Colas, astronomer at the Institut de Mécanique Céleste et de Calcul des Ephémérides (IMCCE) and telescope and instrumentation lead of the Pic-Net project. “We believe that these are some of the best planetary observations from the ground to date.”

Repeated observations with ground-based telescopes provide a long-term, global view of planets that can put the detailed, close-up data collected by orbiting space missions into context. Amateur astronomers with relatively small telescopes can make extremely valuable scientific contributions by observing at dates where no equivalent data is available. Several observing runs like those from the Pic-Net pilot are needed over a year to understand the changes in the atmospheres of planets.

“Images obtained through Pic-Net can provide important, ongoing support for space missions,” said Marc Delcroix, an amateur astronomer who has piloted the use of the one-metre diameter telescope and is the organiser of the Europlanet workshop. “For instance, the high quality of Pic-Net observations of Saturn, which show clearly the hexagon feature surrounding the north polar vortex, atmospheric bands and cloud features, will also provide an avenue for continued study of Saturn and build on the legacy of the Cassini mission, which ends in September.”

Over the last 15 years, amateur astronomers have proven their skills, experience and potential in planetary imaging using new fast cameras that ‘freeze’ optical distortions introduced by the atmosphere on high-resolution telescopic observations. Professional astronomers collaborate closely with amateurs in many areas of planetary sciences, including the study of the atmospheres of planets like Venus, Jupiter or Saturn.

The ultimate goal of the Pic-Net project is to provide experienced observers with more access to the Pic-Midi facility in order to extract the full potential of the telescope and the observing site over time. Regular visits with an enlarged team of observers are envisioned as part of the Pic-Net project.

“The Pic-Net programme provides invaluable support for the Juno mission and complements other Earth-based observations from professional astronomers,” noted Glenn Orton of Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, who is the Juno science team member in charge of coordinating Earth-based observations to extend and enhance the science return from Juno’s investigation of Jupiter and its magnetosphere.

Orton added, “These observations not only provide details on planetary cloud morphology that are close to what we might expect from the Hubble Space Telescope, but also such a program of regular observing allows us to understand the evolution of intermediate- to small-sized features on a variety of time scales, helping Juno scientists to understand the history of features for which the spacecraft only gets one or two ‘snapshots’ on each close approach.”

Javier Peralta, team member of JAXA’s Akatsuki mission commented, “In the case of Venus, the amateur observations have experienced incredible steps forward in the last years. Images in ultraviolet and near-infrared wavelengths permit the study of winds at two altitudes of the dayside clouds, even when Venus is close to being at its furthest point from Earth, while smart combinations of infrared filters for nightside observations now allow us to clearly resolve many surface elevations. These are much needed in support of the Akatsuki mission.”

Images and animations

Jupiter images obtained at Pic du Midi show the global state of Jupiter’s atmosphere providing context to the time gaps between observations run by the Juno mission and are the basis for long-term studies. Credit: E. Kraaikamp/ D. Peach/ F. Colas / M. Delcroix / R. Hueso/ C. Sprianu / G. Therin / Pic du Midi Observatory (OMP-IRAP) / Paris Observatory (IMCCE / LESIA) / CNRS (PNP) / Europlanet 2020 RI / S2P

Colour image of Jupiter obtained on the 3rd night of the Pic-Net workshop. Credit: D. Peach/E. Kraaikamp/ F. Colas / M. Delcroix / R. Hueso/ C. Sprianu / G. Therin / Pic du Midi Observatory (OMP-IRAP) / Paris Observatory (IMCEE / LESIA) / CNRS (PNP) / Europlanet 2020 RI / S2P

Jupiter in methane absorption band, showing bright the high altitude atmospheric features like “oval BA”. Credit: M. Delcroix/ E. Kraaikamp/ D. Peach/ F. Colas/ R. Hueso/ C. Sprianu / G. Therin / Pic du Midi Observatory (OMP-IRAP) / Paris Observatory (IMCCE / LESIA) / CNRS (PNP) / Europlanet 2020 RI / S2P

 

Jupiter high resolution animation in infrared, over more than 20 minutes, showing the rotation of the planet with the Great Red Spot setting, and Ganymede orbiting around it. Credit: M. Delcroix/ E. Kraaikamp/ D. Peach/ F. Colas/ R. Hueso/ C. Sprianu / G. Therin / Pic du Midi Observatory (OMP-IRAP) / Paris Observatory (IMCCE / LESIA) / CNRS (PNP) / Europlanet 2020 RI / S2P

Saturn and its rings a few months before Cassini’s Grand Finale. The planet’s shows the north polar “hexagon” surrounding the North polar vortex, atmospheric bands and faint cloud features at mid latitudes. These atmospheric clouds nicely contrast with the complex ring system. Future observations like this one will build over the Cassini legacy. Credit: D. Peach/E. Kraaikamp/ F. Colas / M. Delcroix / R. Hueso/ C. Sprianu / G. Therin / Pic du Midi Observatory (OMP-IRAP) / Paris Observatory (IMCEE / LESIA) / CNRS (PNP) / Europlanet 2020 RI / S2P

Animation showing the rotation of Saturn and its rings a few months before Cassini’s Grand Finale. Credit: E. Kraaikamp/ D. Peach/ F. Colas / M. Delcroix / R. Hueso/ C. Sprianu / G. Therin / Pic du Midi Observatory (OMP-IRAP) / Paris Observatory (IMCEE / LESIA) / CNRS (PNP) / Europlanet 2020 RI / S2P

 

Venus is a difficult target for many professional telescopes because of its close relative position to the Sun. Observations like this are highly complementary and useful to the observations obtained from the Japanese Akatsuki space mission (JAXA).Observations over four consecutive nights are needed to cover completely the clouds in Venus. Credit: R. Hueso/ D. Peach/ E. Kraaikamp/ F. Colas / M. Delcroix / C. Sprianu / G. Therin / Pic du Midi Observatory (OMP-IRAP) / Paris Observatory (IMCEE / LESIA) / CNRS (PNP) / Europlanet 2020 RI / S2P

 

Ganymede, the largest of Jupiter’s Moons was also observed with astonishing resolution by the Pic-Net team. Surface features as small as 350 km can be clearly identified in this image. Ganymede’s diameter is 5270 km and was located at a distance of 766 million kilometers from Earth at the time of this observation. Credit: E. Kraaikamp/ D. Peach/ F. Colas / M. Delcroix / R. Hueso/ C. Sprianu / G. Therin / Pic du Midi Observatory (OMP-IRAP) / Paris Observatory (IMCEE / LESIA) / CNRS (PNP) / Europlanet 2020 RI / S2P

 

The Pic-Net team. Upper row (L-R): Constantin Sprianu, Damian Peach, Marc Delcroix, Emil Kraaikamp, Gerard Thérin and François Colas. Lower row: Ricardo Hueso. Credit: Ricardo Hueso

 

Night observations at the Pic du Midi Observatory. Bright Jupiter can be seen clearly in the sky and the picture illumination comes from a low full Moon.  Credit: Ricardo Hueso

 

Pic du Midi Observatory. Credit: Ricardo Hueso

 

The one-metre diameter planetary telescope at the Pic du Midi Observatory, used by the Pic-Net project. Credit: Ricardo Hueso

Science Contacts
François Colas
Pic-Net Telescope and project Lead
IMCCE/CNRS
Observatoire de Paris
Paris, France
+33 1 40 51 22 66
francois.colas@imcce.fr

Ricardo Hueso Alonso
Pic-Net Team Planetary Science Lead
Escuela Técnica Superior de Ingeniería
Universidad del País Vasco/Euskal Herriko Unibertsitatea
Bilbao, Spain
+ 34 94601 4262
ricardo.hueso@ehu.eus

Marc Delcroix
Pic-Net Team Amateur coordinator and Workshop organizer
Société Astronomique de France
Toulouse, France
+33 5 61 06 72 86
delcroix.marc@free.fr

Media Contact

Anita Heward
Europlanet Media Centre
Tel: +44 7756 034243
anita.heward@europlanet-eu.org

 

Further Information

Pic-Net Team

  • François Colas (France, IMCCE/CNRS, Paris observatory, telescope and project lead).
  • Marc Delcroix (France, amateur astronomer, planetary imager, president of the planetary observation commission in the Societé Astronomique de France and workshop organizer). http://astrosurf.com/delcroix
  • Emil Kraaikamp (Netherlands, amateur astronomer, planetary imager, author of Autostakkert planetary image processing software). astrokraai.nl
  • Damian Peach (UK, amateur astronomer, planetary imager). http://www.damianpeach.com/
  • Constantin Sprianu (Romania, amateur astronomer, planetary imager).
  • Gérard Thérin (France, amateur astronomer, planetary imager). httpHYPERLINK “http://www.naturepixel.com/ciel_1.htm”://www.naturepixel.com/ciel_1.htm
  • Ricardo Hueso (Spain, professional astronomer, planetary scientist lead).
  • Jean Luc Dauvergne (France, amateur astronomer, scientific journalist)

Pic du Midi observatory

The Pic du Midi observatory was founded in 1873 and continues a long tradition of high-resolution observations on several astrophysical domains. Built at 2,877 m altitude in the centre of the French Pyrenees it makes a unique observing site, night astronomical instruments are : 2m telescope (http://www.tbl.omp.eu/en) dedicated to stellar research and 1m telescope for planetary science (http://www.picdumidi.eu/). Accessible by cable-car, it hosts several touristic activities linked to astronomy (www.picdumidi.com), it is at the centre of the first French dark sky reserve (http://www.darksky.org/idsp/reserves/picdumidi/). The location above a sea of mountain clouds results in a stable atmosphere where magical “seeing” is regularly obtained, providing excellent conditions for high-resolution observations. It is also one of the professional observatories where more collaborative projects with amateur astronomers have been developed in Europe over the last two decades, including: 60 cm telescope operated by amateurs (http://www.astrosurf.com/t60/), continuous coronographic survey of the sun operated by amateurs (https://climso.fr/),  and associated amateur observers for the 2m TBL telescope (http://oatbl.free.fr/wordpress/).
Pic du Midi observatory main web site:  http://www.obs-mip.fr/

Europlanet

Since 2005, Europlanet has provided Europe’s planetary science community with a platform to exchange ideas and personnel, share research tools, data and facilities, define key science goals for the future, and engage stakeholders, policy makers and European citizens with planetary science.

The Europlanet 2020 Research Infrastructure (RI) has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 654208 to provide access to state-of-the-art research facilities across the European Research Area and a mechanism to coordinate Europe’s planetary science community. The project builds on a €2 million Framework 6 Coordination Action and €6 million Framework 7 Research Infrastructure funded by the European Commission.  The Europlanet collegial organisation, linked by a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), has a membership of over 85 research institutes and companies.

Europlanet project website: www.europlanet-2020-ri.eu

Europlanet outreach website: www.europlanet-eu.org

Follow on Twitter via @europlanetmedia

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