Vol 17, No 3

Digitizer of astronomical plates at Shanghai Astronomical Observatory and its performance test

Yong Yu, Jian-hai Zhao, Zheng-Hong Tang, Zheng-Jun Shang


Abstract Before CCD detectors were widely employed in observational astronomy, the main method of detection was the use of glass astrophotographic plates. Astronomical plates have been used to record information on the position and activity of celestial bodies for more than 100 years. There are about 30 000 astronomical plates in China, and the digitization of astronomical plates is of great significance for permanent preservation and to make full use of these valuable observation data. A digitizer with high precision and high measuring speed is a key piece of equipment for carrying out the task of digitizing these astronomical plates. A digitizer for glass astrophotographic plates was developed jointly by Shanghai Astronomical Observatory and Nishimura Co., Ltd of Japan. The digitizer’s hardware was manufactured by Nishimura Co., Ltd, and the performance test, error corrections as well as image processing of the digitizer were carried out by Shanghai Astronomical Observatory. The main structure and working mode of the digitizer are introduced in this paper. A performance test shows that brightness uniformity of illumination within the measuring area is better than 0.15%, the repeatability of digitized positions is better than 0.2 μm and the repeatability of digitized brightness is better than 0.01 instrumental magnitude. The systematic factors affecting digitized positions, such as lens distortion, the actual optical resolution, non-linearity of guide rails, non-uniformity of linear motors in the mobile platform, deviation of the image mosaic, and non-orthogonality between the direction of scanning and camera linear array, are calibrated and evaluated. Based on an astronomical plate with a size of 300 mm × 300 mm, which was digitized at different angles, the conversion residuals of positions of common stars on different images were investigated. The results show that the standard deviations of the residuals are better than 0.9 μm and the residual distribution is almost random, which demonstrates the digitizer has a higher precision for digitization.


Keywords astrometry — instrumentation: detectors — methods: data analysis — techniques: image processing

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