M57 – The Ring Nebula

M57 in the constellation, Lyra, is a planetary nebula. Added to Charles Messier’s catalog in January of 1779 who described it as “a dull nebula, but perfectly outlined; as large as Jupiter and looks like a fading planet.” Planetary nebula are not planets, but they are dying stars emitting gases. The particular star that caused this can be seen in the middle of the nebula at 15 magnitude; it is a white dwarf star, and is the remainder of a sunlike star. The central region is dark due to emitting UV light, and the green color is caused by oxygen and nitrogen while the outer red region is hydrogen. The distance is not well known; more about the distance can be read in the link below on the Messier Catalog.

'X' marks the location of M57

‘X’ marks the location of M57

This nebula is very small in the eyepiece, but on a clear night it can be seen shining almost looking like a little cheerio in the sky, or a smoke ring. The starfield around it can sometimes wash out the view, or even a thin layer of clouds can make this a hard target to spot. Given some close bright stars making of the constellation, Lyra, it can be easily located.

M57 – The Ring Nebula 05-30-13

This image is 62 light frames at 45 seconds a piece, ISO 800 with 40 darks. The main image was one stack and process, and the larger image in the upper left corner was another stack with a 2x drizzle applied to it, and then cropped and placed in this image for a slightly larger view.

For last years attempt at the ring nebula click through to the post here.

I get all my Deep Sky object information from The Messier Catalog.

Omni XLT 150 with CG-4 mount
Modded Canon 350D
T-ring and adapter
Polar Scope for alignment

M57 – The Ring Nebula

Found in the constellation of Lyra – The Harp, is the planetary nebula, M57. Although called a planetary nebula, it is not caused by a planet, but a star. This particular one was caused by a red giant star which released a shell of ionized gas expanding into the interstellar medium. The Ring Nebula has a magnitude of 8.8 and an angular size of 1.5z1 arcminute, too small to see with binoculars, but visible with a small telescope of 4 inches.
First discovered by French astronomer Antoine Darquier de Pellepoix in January of 1779; it was then independently discovered by Charles Messier a month later. Both Charles Messier and William Herschel believed M57 to be comprised of multiple faint stars, but were unresolvable in their small telescopes.
‘X’ Marks the spot for M57.
My Observation: With the 25mm at a magnification of 30x this small ring shaped object looks to be a bright gray color, but very small in size. Easily overlooked as just another star, but once you focus on it – especially with averted vision – you can make out that it is a ring shaped object. Remind me a lot of a Cheerio, or a Donut. Stepping up the magnification to the 12.5mm giving me a magnification of 60x, M57 doesn’t lose any brightness, but gains in size. It’s shape, and the fact that it’s not another star in the eyepiece, is much more visible. Looking like a smoke ring from a cigar smoker, it’s just about perfectly round.
M57 – The Ring Nebula. 5-12-12. Click to Enlarge.
This is 18 images at 30 seconds a piece, ISO1600 stacked with 15 darks and 20 bias frames. I could have probably gotten away with doing it at ISO800, and still maintaining the colors I got. Stacked in Deep Sky Stacker and post processing in Gimp.

September 18, 2011 Viewing Session – M57 and M29

Last night was the first crystal clear night I have seen since winter/spring time, and I just had to take advantage of it. Although I had work the next day I still got a couple hours of viewing and sketching in. This weekend was great for clear skies, Thursday and Friday were quite clear, and Saturday cleared up by about 1am although I didn’t go out that night, followed by Sunday being really clear. If you missed my post on NGC 457 check it out, that cluster was cool!

I set out not knowing exactly what I wanted to observe and sketch but I knew it was going to be a great night to get the best visual for it. I know I’ve posted a picture I took of M57 – The Ring Nebula in Lyra back in April, but I decided I’d have a go with sketching it. I really like the way sketches come out and show how it looks through the telescope. The only difference is the visual on paper is a bit bigger due to the size circles I drew on the paper, but the detail you see in the sketch is the detail you see through the eyepiece. I also went for a small open cluster, M29, in the constellation Cygnus – The Swan.

M57 – a planetary nebula is a great object to point your telescope at to determine how the transparency and seeing is that night. It is almost smack dab in-between the stars Sulafat and Sheliak. Some nights I go out aim at it and can’t see it with any of the eyepieces, and sometimes I can aim at it with the 32mm (31.25x magnification) and spot it right off. Last night M57 was just a faint little fuzzy object in my 32mm, could easily look past it (but still quite visible), or mistake it for a smudge on the eyepieces. Knowing what it was I put in the 12.5mm (80x magnification), centered it in view and turned on the motor drive to keep it in view. In the 12.5mm it is perfectly round and soft looking, almost fluffy; reminds me quite a bit of a Cheerio in the sky. Also in view were quite a few faint stars, I counted about 26 while viewing. Some stars were only visible with averted vision and some were visible while looking straight at them.

I then put in the 6mm (166.6667x magnification) and WOW was it big. At that much magnification it’s almost too much for my telescope to handle. At a certain point telescopes just can’t take much more magnification and I was getting close with this, but with the seeing as good as it was last night I was able to do it. Focusing on M57 was a bit tricky, but I just aimed at a brighter star nearby, focused then went back to the Ring Nebula. The field of view is quite small with the 6mm and mainly the objects I could see were M57, 4 faint stars, and one quite a bit brighter near the bottom right edge of my field of view.

The thumbnail view is a good representation of this image in the eyepiece.
 M57 – The Ring Nebula in Lyra The Harp. Planetary Nebula. Click to enlarge.

After the Ring Nebula I tried to find the small magnitude 8 globular cluster labeled M56, thought I would get two near objects in one sitting. I for the life of me couldn’t find it, so I went on to a loosely packed open cluster at a magnitude of 6.6 in the constellation Cygnus. I have seen this cluster before, but never stopped at it and really gave it much of a look until last night. I aimed at it with the 32mm and it kind of formed a shape that resembled an outline of or stick-figure of a butterfly (go ahead look at the picture below you’ll see it too). Once I got it in sight I started looking at it through the 12.5mm, still resembled what I saw before. Even at this magnification counting only the brightest stars in view as the main cluster I only saw about 10 stars, plus all the dimmer hard to see stars surrounding it. Getting this as close to accurate as I can is quite time consuming, you really get the chance to observe the object when doing a sketch. At least it keeps me from going all over the place.

The 6mm eyepiece revealed about 16 brighter stars with the dimmer stars being a background to the main brighter stars. Saw a double star in the lower right side of the field of view. Focusing on this cluster wasn’t as hard due to the brighter stars already being in view. M29 can be found near the star Sadr in the constellation Cygnus.

The thumbnail view is a good representation of this image in the eyepiece.
M29 in Cygnus the Swan. Open cluster. Click to enlarge.

June 3, 2011 Viewing Session – M57, M13 and M4

 The skies were so clear on Friday June 3rd and since it was a weekend I was able to stay out pretty late and view the skies above. I went out around 11pm and didn’t start packing up my telescope to come home until around 2am. Since it’s summer time the trees in the back yard obstruct my view allowing me only to see directly over head. Now I have to pack my gear into my car and drive about 30 seconds down the road to the park, which isn’t such a bad thing. I have a great view to the North, South, East and West; although the view to the west is quite light polluted due to Plattsburgh being in that direction. I slowly watched the constellation Virgo disappear in the light pollution although Saturn was still quite bright next to the star Porrima.

I have just recently downloaded a firmware hack for my Canon point and shoot camera called CHDK. This hack doesn’t overwrite your current firmware, so you have to load it each time you want to use it. This is a nice feature because I don’t always want to have these options when taking pictures. With this hack there are all types of things you can do with your camera from time lapse photography, to exposure times of 1/60,000 (and faster with some of the available cameras) of a second to 30 minutes. Both exposure times are a bit extreme but within the range is a nice happy medium for taking afocal astrophotography images, which is exactly why I installed it on my camera. If you have a canon point and shoot and are interested check out CHDK’s wiki and make sure your camera is compatible. Mine isn’t fully compatible, but I found a link for the CHDK ported thread for my Canon Powershot SX210 IS.

The night started with me viewing M57 (The Ring Nebula) a planetary nebulae in Lyra. After viewing it magnified with my 12.5mm eyepiece I decided to try and image it. I didn’t have much luck, not sure if it was polar alignment issues or if it was issues with my motor drive not set at the right speed, but I tried like heck. So after a little bit I just gave up on the imaging of M57 and just enjoyed it’s pretty smoke ring look. A few days before though I also attempted and had the same issues. I did happen to get some cool light trails from an airplane that passed in my field of view while taking a 90 second exposure. I was hoping that M57 would come out nice and crisp with the light trails from the plane, but even that night I was having issues. I seem to have the most issues when using anything other than my 32mm eyepiece for imaging.

Also the same night I was trying to image M57 I went for M13, The Great Globular Cluster in Hercules again so that I could try to get another image of it less noisy due to high ISO. Since I have this hack allowing longer exposure times I can drop down the ISO from 1600 to around 400, and get a nice crisp image with less noise. Looks like I got some space junk floating through my field of view on this one. Thought it was maybe a satellite but it wasn’t visible to the naked eye, and I didn’t see any signs of a satellite using Stellarium. That night was the night of light trails in my images.

Anyway, on the 3rd I decided to aim to the south towards the constellation Scorpius which contains quite a few double stars and quite a few star clusters. The one I was after was M4 which is near the star Antares. I took somewhere around 10-12 pictures of M4 hoping to stack them all together when I got home to make for the largest image stack I’ve done so far. Needless to say I had quite a bit of issues with star trails again due to bad polar alignment or the motor drive not being at the correct speed. I did however get two great shots of it with no star trails, or I should say very little star trails. So I stacked the two images and had Rachael Alexandra edit them for me. The two shots were an exposure of 64seconds, F3.1, ISO 400. When stacked and edited I got this beautiful image of M4.

2 images @ 64sec. F3.1 ISO400. Edited by Rachael Alexandra.

While I was taking the images of M4 I did some naked eye observing and enjoyed the view of The Great Rift in the milky way. It’s a series of overlapping, non-luminous, molecular dust clouds. Basically The Great Rift looks like a division in the Milky Way separating it into two streams of stars between the constellations Aquila and Cygnus. I also looked towards the constellations Sagittarius which is just west of Scorpius. In my light polluted area I was able to make out a faint fuzzy object, and using my pocket star atlas from Sky & Telescope I determined the small faint fuzzy I was looking at was the Lagoon Nebula. While standing at the park that I was viewing from I noticed quite a few meteoroid’s in the sky. One in particular caught my eye and took my breath away. It was extremely close to where I was standing and very bright. It couldn’t have been any further than 10-15 yards away from where I was standing, and by the time it burned out it was about eye level to me. Probably the closest one I have ever seen. If it wasn’t dark or if it hadn’t burnt out before hitting the ground I would have searched to see if any of it made it completely to the ground before burning out.

After I was done imaging M4 I pointed over in Sagittarius and found a cluster of stars. I’m still not 100% sure of what object it was I was looking at, but I’m thinking it was M23, an open cluster of stars. I attempted imaging it but got a lot of star trails and all types of motion. I’m including the image in case anyone can look at it and give me a definitive answer as to what it is I was imaging. At first I thought it was M24 star cloud but it looks quite a bit like M23 the open cluster.

1 image @ 64sec. F3.1 ISO400 no editing

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.