M31 Part 1

I wasn’t going to share this image of M31, the Andromeda Galaxy quite yet. My original plan is still going to happen, but I feel I should share my progress with everyone.

I plan on getting multiple sessions with Andromeda over the next couple months with different exposure settings, and ISO settings to combine them all into one final mass stacking of Andromeda. This image wont be a part of what I do get due to star trailing along with framing issues when imaging.

This galaxy is huge as you can see from the picture below. This galaxy has a radius of 70,780 light-years, and is around 2.5 million light-years from Earth in the constellation, Andromeda. It is the largest spiral galaxy this close to our own Milky Way galaxy, but is not the closest galaxy overall. M31 is heading towards Earth for a collision course, but don’t be worried it’s not estimated to happen for another 3.5 billion years.

M31 The Andromeda Galaxy Part 1

From the northern hemisphere it can be seen with the unaided eye, which I have even spotted without the aid of the telescope from my Orange Bortle Scale skies. At a magnitude of 3.5, Andromeda resembles a small haze in the sky which could easily be overlooked as a cloud, especially if you have some light pollution drowning it out. This galaxy when imaged is as wide as 6 of our full moons, but can only show the bright central core when viewed without the aid of photography, a telescope, or binoculars.

I did a polar alignment, and a very quick and dirty drift alignment and stacked 22 light frames at 1 minute exposures and ISO 800, and 25 dark frames. The above image is also just a quick edit in photoshop, as I wasn’t going for perfection due to the bad framing and star trailing, but I had to share what I did get anyway.

Omni XLT 150
Canon 350D
T-Ring Adapter that came with the telescope

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.

April 30, 2011 Viewing Session – M92 and M57

After having clouds for what seems like an eternity, they have finally broke! Checking all my astronomy weather forecasting sites making sure it was supposed to be a good night. Oh what a beautiful and clear night it turned out to be. I had two objects that I had my mind set on finding. M101 and M51. Although my night of viewing started off with something that isn’t a planet, galaxy, nebula, or some sort of star cluster. After which I hunted for M101, M51, M92, and M57 the Ring Nebula.

The night started around 9:25pm when I looked at my clock and remembered that there was supposed to be an extremely bright pass of the ISS. I rushed to put my camera on a tripod, and adjusted the camera settings, ran outside I found the big dipper which led me to Polaris which told me which direction north was. From there I used it to find WNW which is where the ISS was rising from. I stood there waiting for it, feeling like it was taking forever! Around 9:30pm I started to see this, what appeared to be, a reddish light smoothly gliding across the sky. I’ve seen satellites numerous times when looking up, but nothing compares to the brightness of the ISS! At first I thought it was a plane until I came to my senses and realized there weren’t any blinking lights. So I got a few 15 second long exposures of it as it made it’s way across the sky. I got it from the point I could see it, and took as many pictures as I could until it disappeared behind some trees.

ISS coming up to the constellation Auriga to the left.
ISS Next to the constellation Auriga star Capella to the left.

ISS making it’s way to the constellation Ursa Major

ISS passing through Ursa Major/Big Dipper starting at the star Alioth. Just below you can see the double star Alcor and Mizar. One of the only double stars I know of that you can see with the naked eye.
ISS going down into the trees. Arcturus is to the right (the orange star).

After I came inside to view those photos and let the excitement of capturing it calm down. I decided to watch an episode of Oddities. Yeah I know, not very astronomy-like but it’s a good show. So I watched an episode then 10:30pm came along and I started gathering my camera, the mount to put my camera to the eyepiece, and my headlamp. Made my way out to the back deck to begin my night of viewing. I only expected to really be out there until 1:30 or 2 at the latest. It was a Saturday night so I decided I’d stay out as long as I could stay awake.

The hunt for M101. I don’t know if you have ever watched an episode of Survivorman where Les Stroud patiently waits for food to end up in a dead fall, but never ends up catching anything. Well that was how my hunt for M101 went. I didn’t really pay much attention to the time while I was out there but I spent a really long time searching for this spiral galaxy. I figured it would be easy enough to spot as a magnitude 7.86 and the face that it’s a face on spiral galaxy meaning I’d be viewing it from above, not from it’s side where it would be a thin flat line. I searched and searched and searched right where it should be. I don’t know if I just couldn’t see it due to light pollution or what but I had absolutely no luck. I was slightly disappointed by my lack of finding it. I came inside and viewed Stellarium to see if I was close, and it seemed I had it but never actually saw it. I attempted to take pictures but nothing captured it. I am not giving up on this galaxy! I will be back out to search for it time and time again until I finally see it!
After having no luck with M101 I figured I’d hop on over to M51, a whirlpool galaxy, close by to M101. M51 is a magnitude 8.4 and is an interesting site because it’s a large whirlpool eating another galaxy, or colliding with, I like to think of it as a hungry whirlpool devouring a smaller galaxy. I should have been able to see this one also since it can be seen in binoculars. I didn’t quite know where to look for it but I didn’t have much luck. I figure this one’s like M101 and it’s up all year round, I’m not going to spend all night searching for this. It was clear out and I wanted to see something!

I found Lyra and decided I should use my RA and DEC setting on my equatorial mount. Not quite sure why I didn’t think of this off the start. So I re-polar aligned my telescope to make sure it was correct, then I swung it towards the bright star Vega in Lyra and set the setting circle to it’s coordinates; RA 18h37m DEC +38. I decided since there was a globular cluster near Hercules and Lyra that I haven’t looked at yet I’d make my way to it tonight. M92 is at a distance of about 26700 light-years away from Earth, and through my scope looks less magnificent than The Great Cluster In Hercules M13. It may have been smaller and harder to see but it was still a beautiful site. I gazed at it and tracked it through the sky for quite a while, and attempted to take some pictures of it. Although they aren’t the greatest pictures they still work great as a visual example of what I saw and for documentation of what I’ve seen. These pictures were taken through my 32mm eyepiece, which is a magnification of about 31.25. Looking back I should have attempted with the 12.5mm eyepiece which would have given me a magnification of 80.

Click to Glubulate

Next on my list was an object I didn’t even expect to be able to see, M57, a ring nebula located in the constellation of Lyra. M57 is a magnitude 8.8 and using the setting circles on my mount I was able to easily get in the vicinity of it and could just barely make out the faintest gray fuzzy circular object through the 32mm. So I centered it in my eyepiece and started tracking it with my motor drive and switched out to my 12.5mm eyepiece. There it was a bit larger of a view. Still a faint gray object but I knew what I had in my view. It seemed like such a perfect round circle in my eyepiece; there was no confusing it with anything else. I didn’t think it was possible for me to get a picture of it, or anything really, through my smaller eyepiece (any of them that aren’t the 32mm have given me lots of trouble in taking pictures in the past). Lo and behold I got the object on film, albeit a digital camera and an sd card, not really film, but you know what I mean. Once I saw the very first picture of it that I took I was so amazed by the color that showed!! I had so much excitement running through me after this that I decided to pack it up and call it a night. Although being late at night, or early in the morning, I decided to just quickly scan around the constellation Cygnus just to see all the pretty stars inside of the constellation. Then I finally gathered up the will to bring my cold frozen self back inside and put my telescope, eyepieces, headlamp, camera, and camera mount away.

Click to nebulate

It was a great night of viewing aside from the slight disappointments with the two galaxies I went for, but there’s always next time! It’s one of the reasons I love this hobby. I also didn’t want to get too into Cygnus quite yet since it doesn’t come up into my view until around 2am at the moment, I’ll wait until it’s up a bit earlier and I have more time to search through it and it’s many objects available to view. Looks like Cygnus, Ophiuchus, Scutum, and Sagittarius are going to be fun constellations to surf around in the next month or two as there are a ton of nebula and clusters coming up with them. Looking at the weather forecast I’m glad I made the best of it when I did because more clouds and rain is on the way. Not like the flooded Adirondacks need it.

Hubble Spots Most Distant Galaxy Candidate

hubble, galaxy, most distant galaxy, space, science, astronomy

NASA has discovered a distant galaxy of blue stars that existed 480 million years after the big bang. The Hubble Space Telescope was pushed to it’s limits to find what is likely the most distant object ever seen in the universe. Based on the objects color astronomers believe the light from the object traveled 13.2 billion years to reach the Hubble, which is roughly 150 million years longer than the previous record holder. The age of the universe is approximately 13.7 billion years. This object is the furthest and the earliest that has been seen in the universe. In the picture to the left it appears as a very tiny red dot. Click picture for it to appear larger, or click here to read the NASA article.
This object is thought to be 13.2 billion light-years away due to the objects colors. The object is a candidate galaxy because it’s still not confirmed if it is actually a galaxy or not. Whether it’s a galaxy or some other object will hopefully be confirmed once the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is completed.
The part about this story that I find so interesting is that this object they are seeing is actually much older than they are seeing with Hubble. This object could actually be much larger now than we can see, or on the other hand it could not even exist anymore. Basically due to how long it takes light from that distance to reach us it’s almost like we’re looking into the past. The Hubble Space Telescope is kind of like a time machine.