Badby man discovers a new galaxy

Zbigniew Chetnik pictured,with his telescope in his observatory.
Zbigniew Chetnik pictured,with his telescope in his observatory.

When you switch on the television on Tuesday you do not imagine that by Thursday you will have discovered a new galaxy 10 billion light years from Earth.

But that is precisely what happened to amateur astronomer Zbigniew Chetnik through the BBC’s Stargazing Live.

Mr Chetnik, from Badby, joined in an online search for something known as gravity lensing, and was the first person to discover an image that has since caught the attentions of observatories around the rest of the world.

He said: “I have an observatory in my garden at home, and what interests me these days is deep space objects.

“They can be very difficult indeed to image. People know you have to have a ‘clear sky’ but for what I’m looking at it has to be very clear. I have instruments to check the tem-perature and droplet size.

“In fact there’s one object I’ve been trying to image for more than one-and-a-half years, and I’ve still not managed it.

“That’s why when I saw the appeal for help with this on-line project looking for deep space objects, I thought I’d give it a go.”

It took just a few clicks of a mouse for Zbigniew Chetnik to help add to the sum of human knowledge with his discovery.

He said: “I spent quite a while on the site looking at the photographs, and then that image popped up and I thought it was just beautiful. The object at the front is two billion light-years away, and the object that just happens to be directly behind it, is another eight billion light-years away. Given the universe is only 13 billion years old, it means this object at 10 billion light years away is quite near the beginning of the universe. I was one of six people who spotted the image. But apparently I was the first. It is very rare to get a perfect ring from these lensed objects, normally they are a crescent on one side.”

What Mr Chetnik, who is also known as Zbish or Spitch, had spotted was the light from a distant object being bent by gravity around a closer galaxy, producing a halo around it.

The scientists involved with the programme used the Lovell radio telescope at Jodrell Bank to look at the object, and then phoned observatories in the Canaries, and Hawaii among others, to get more data on the object.

Mr Chetnik said: “To have some of the largest telescopes in the world looking at it, I realised it must be something very interesting.

“Gravitational lensing was used to prove Einstein’s general theory of relativity. And when they asked the public for names on the TV that was among those suggested. It was down to 9Stein and 9Spitch and I thought it would go to Einstein, but then Professor Brian Cox said it should be named after me to highlight amateur astronomy.

“I’ve never won the Lottery, but I imagine this is what it feels like.”