M3 – Globular Cluster


Messier 3 is a globular cluster in the constellation Canes Venatici at a distance of 33,900 light-years away from Earth with a magnitude of 6.2. It is one of the largest and brightest globular clusters visible in the northern hemisphere, and consists of around 500,000 stars. Globular clusters are groups of old stars with this cluster being estimated at 8 billion years old. Within this cluster are a known 274 variable stars – the most found within any globular cluster.
‘X’ marks the location of M3.
I happened to be out viewing this cluster as the moon was already beyond 50% so it was washing out a lot of the stars, galaxies, and nebula in the sky. I decided on M3 as it is one of the brightest globulars, and it was one of the few that was above my tree line from the backyard. Considering the moon brightness paired with light pollution I was very impressed with the view of it through the telescope, and of course couldn’t resist getting a few images of it to stack and show off.
Given it’s location along the border of 3 constellations; Canes Venatici, Bootes, and Coma Berenices it wasn’t the easiest to find due to it’s location in the sky and it’s lack of many stars visible to guide from. This was the first time I actually used my RA and DEC dials on my EQ mount. Using the star Arcturus as my setting star I tried it a few times with success on each attempt making M3 land within the view each time.
M3 Globular Cluster in Canes Venatici. April 2, 2012. Also above the cluster is Galaxy NGC 5263 at magnitude 14.
This consists of 14 images at 30 seconds a piece, 10 dark frames and 20 bias frames taken on April 2, 2012. Since the temperature at night has been the same during the last few sessions I’m able to reuse the same darks, and bias frames each time. I planned on getting a few more dark frames while I was out, but I had some difficulties with my polar alignment and tracking that I was getting a lot of star trails. By the time I finally got everything the way I needed it to be I was almost out of battery on my camera.

M51 – The Whirlpool Galaxy

M51 is two galaxies colliding together at a distance of 23 +/- 4 million light-years away from our own Milky Way Galaxy, and a radius of 43,000 light years. This galaxy although it lies close to the constellation of Ursa Major, it’s actually within the constellation boarder of Canes Venatici. These are easily spotted in the average amateur astronomers backyard telescopes, and may even be visible through a pair of binoculars.

‘X’ marks the spot where M51 is located. Screen shot from astronomy freeware Stellarium.
M51 through my telescope with plenty of light pollution in the skies looks like a hazy circle with a bright central core… actually, two bright central cores. One from each galaxy as they’re colliding together. M51 shines at a magnitude of 8.4 so it’s quite easily visible from light polluted skies and will probably show even more detail through an eyepiece from a dark sky location. Previously I had drawn a sketch of M51 through the eyepiece. Amazing the difference between what you can see, and what your camera can capture with multiple long exposures stacked.
M51 – The Whirlpool Galaxy taken on March 26, 2012.

M51 – Whirlpool Galaxy. This is a re-edit of the same images used to create the image above.

This image is 16 images at 30 seconds a piece, 10 dark frames, and 20 bias frames stacked in Deep Sky Stacker and processed in Gimp. Photos taken on March 26, 2012 with an Omni XLT 150 and Canon 350D prime focus.

February 18, 2012 Viewing Session – Galaxies

I went on a bit of a galaxy hunt. I felt the need to take advantage of the crystal clear skies and the fact that there was no moon visible in the sky. I didn’t get out until around 10pm at which point I checked the astronomical seeing by magnifying Mars. I had no luck and couldn’t even make out a polar cap. At that point I decided it was going to be a night of deep sky observing. Without having a motor to track with I decided it would be a good night for sketching. It wasn’t unbearably cold out tonight, around 26°F, quite a treat after last weekends real feel in the negatives. My favorite thing about sketching is that it is exactly what I’m seeing through the telescope, no long exposure to get more detail out of it.

My first target of the night was a Messier object in the constellation Canes Venatici which in my location is only two stars visible; Alpha and Beta Canes Venatici. The object I located was the Whirlpool Galaxy, M51a&b. These two spiral galaxies are in the middle of a collision 23 million light years away, and M51 has a diameter of 38,000 light-years. The cores of both the galaxies are noticeable through the telescope, and you can just make out the connection between the two. Although I am unable to make out any spiral features from my light polluted skies this was still a great object to view.

M51a&b sketch with quick notes. Click to enlarge.

Even though there are quite a few other galaxies to view within Canes Venatici I moved on to another constellation after the galaxy M63 gave me a hard time – more like I couldn’t find it. So I moved on to a completely different area of the sky.

Ever since I got my first scope I have wanted to see the Leo Triplet in the constellation of, well I’m sure you can guess, Leo. I have not been able to see these until tonight. The Leo Triplet, also known as the M66 group, contains the three Galaxies; M65, M66, and NGC 3628 which are aroung 35 million light-years away. These three galaxies are below the 3.3 magnitude star Theta Leonis, and also happen to be above the planet Mars, so there are some easy ways to find this grouping. M65 and M66 are both intermediate spiral galaxies, while NGC 3628 is an unbarred spiral galaxy, which is almost directly edge on with our view. Having the three of these in my view immediately made me think of a smiley face with the two Messier galaxies as the eyes and NGC 3628 as the mouth.

The Leo Triplet from left to right: M65, M66, NGC 3628. Click to enlarge
As I got done with sketching this I looked up to see where I could point to do another sketch, I was on a roll. When I looked up I noticed that the majority of the sky was covered in clouds. Unfortunately I had to end my night there. I wanted to keep going, especially since the galaxy cluster between Leo and Virgo were just coming out from behind a tree. I’m sure I’ll get another chance.