Thursday, April 27, 2017

10 Messier Objects Around The Big Dipper


There are 10 Messier objects associated with the Big Dipper.  The Big Dipper is an asterism (group of stars that form a recognizable pattern) made up of the seven brightest stars of constellation Ursa Major.  It is one of the most popular asterisms in the Northern hemisphere and has many astronomical features in its realm that most people are unaware of including me until recently.

Late winter to spring is an excellent time to image or observe the Big Dipper and nearby objects as it is high overhead around midnight.  Eight of the ten Messier objects associated with the Big Dipper are galaxies, one is a planetary nebula, and one is a double star.

The photos below were captured with my modest equipment which consists of an 80mm refractor (Orion ED80) and a DSLR camera (Canon Rebel T3i - modified).

10 Messier Objects Around The Big Dipper


1. Winnecke 4


Designation: M40
Magitude: 9.65
Constellation: Ursa Major


What was Messier thinking? M40 or Winnecke 4 is one of the most bazaar objects that Messier included in his famous catalog of what not to confused with a comet. in actuality it's an optical double star located in Ursa Major.  This was a rather easy object to capture as it involved only 10 frames of 90 seconds.

2. The Whirlpool Galaxy

Designation: M51, NGC 5195
Magitude: 8.4
Constellation: Canes Venatici


This is a stunning galaxy which I have always been fascinated with.  It is classified as an interacting along with its companion galaxy (NGC 5195).  I have only observed it once so far under not so dark skies through using Elliot Severn's 12" Dobsonian telescope.
The image above is almost 2 hours of exposure when it was directly overhead. This time of year seems to have many galaxies but not much in the way of nebulae.

3. Sunflower Galaxy

Designation: M63
Magitude: 9.3
Constellation: Canes Venatici


The Sunflower Galaxy contains a central disc surrounded by many short spiral arm segments and part of the M51 Group, a group of galaxies that also includes M51.  Also of note, in 1971, a supernova with a magnitude of 11.8 appeared in one of the arms of M63.  The image above is almost 1.5 hours of exposure.

4. Bode's Galaxy

Designation: M81
Magitude: 6.94
Constellation: Ursa Major


Bode's Galaxy is a very impressive spiral galaxy with a supermassive black hole in the center. Because of this it has been extensively studied by professional astronomers. It is also a great target for amateurs because of its brightness.  Bode's Galaxy along with the Cigar Galaxy (M82) make a great pair when framed together.  In fact I chose to use the framed pair in the combined image which is why there are only photos.  This was the hardest to image because I had to collect data over four nights in order to get 1.7 hrs of exposure do to my limited field of view.

5. Cigar Galaxy

Designation: M82
Magitude: 8.41
Constellation: Ursa Major


The Cigar Galaxy is about five times more luminous than the whole Milky Way and has a center one hundred times more luminous than our galaxy's center.  Also interesting, in 2014 scientists discovered the brightest pulsar yet known.

As stated above in the Bode's Galaxy description M81 and M82 make a great pair when framed together.  The 1.7 hrs of exposure collected so far is not enough and I hope continue to add to it.

6. The Starburst Galaxy

Designation: M94
Magitude: 8.99
Constellation: Canes Venatici


The Starburst Galaxy has an extraordinarily bright nucleus compared to other galaxies.  There is also a bright ring surrounding the core which is host to new star formation.  Luckily I was able to get 1.4 hrs of exposure time on this galaxy before the clouds moved in.  


7. The Owl Nebula

Designation: M97
Magitude: 9.9
Constellation: Ursa Major


She's a beauty! The Owl Nebula is the other non-galaxy Messier object associated with the Big dipper. Estimated to be 8,000 yrs old the nebula was formed when a star similar to our sun releases gas and dust as it runs out of nuclear fuel. Larger telescopes reveal the owl-like eyes but even in this 1-hour total exposure image the two "shadowy eyes" are visible.

8. The Pinwheel Galaxy

Designation: M101
Magitude: 7.86
Constellation: Ursa Major



This gorgeous face-on spiral galaxy is a mere 21 million light years from us. The spiral arms are clearly visible in this rather large galaxy. The sky conditions were less than ideal so I wasn't expecting much with this image, however, I spent 1.5 hrs capturing photons and was lucky it came out as well as it did.


9. M106

Designation: M106
Magitude: 9.1
Constellation: Canes Venatici



Messier 106 has no nickname but that doesn't mean it isn't impressive in its own right. Unusual spectra lines and X-rays suggest this galaxy may falling into a supermassive black hole in the center. A possible companion galaxy, NGC 4217, is located on the lower left side of this image. This 49 minute image was taken on a very cold March evening.


10. Surfboard Galaxy

Designation: M108
Magitude: 10.7
Constellation: Ursa Major



Well I guess this edge on galaxy does resemble a surfboard. M108 was captured in the same image as M97, the Owl Nebula, as the appear near each other from our vantage point. However, M108 is roughly 44 million light years from the Owl Nebula and Earth.

Well that's all Folks! I hope you enjoyed this post.

I would like to take credit for coming up with the idea for doing a post like this, however, it came from Trevor Jones at AstroBackyard where he did a similar post labeled: 8 Deep Sky Targets for Galaxy Season. If you are interested in astrophotography I would highly recommend visiting his site.

New Website:

Thursday, April 20, 2017

M101 - The Pinwheel Galaxy

Messier 101 - The Pinwheel Galaxy (a.k.a. NGC 5457) is a face-on spiral galaxy distanced 21 million light-years away from earth in the constellation Ursa Major.  M101 is a large galaxy comparable in size to the Milky Way with a diameter of 170,000 light-years.  The galaxy is asymmetrical due to the tidal forces from interactions with its companion galaxies. These gravitational interactions compress interstellar hydrogen gas, which then triggers strong star formation activity in M101's spiral arms that can be detected in ultraviolet images.  On August 24, 2011, a Type Ia supernova, SN 2011fe, was discovered in M101. The supernova was visual magnitude 17.2 at discovery and reached magnitude 9.9 at its peak. (source: wikipedia).

I was lucky lucky to get this last Saturday when the sky unexpectedly cleared up enough to get 1.5 hrs of decent exposures.  I think I can do better with this object with more exposures, however, that will have to wait as I have too many other thing to capture on limited clear nights in the Northeast.  The weather has been awful since Saturday and it does not seem to be getting any better anytime soon.  I used the Synthetic Flat-Layer removal method described by Trevor Jones from AstroBackyard to cleanup the gradients this time as it produced the best results.

BTW this object number 70 on my Messier catalog.  Enjoy.

Crop

Wide Field

M101 - The Pinwheel Galaxy
Location: Happy Frog Observatory, Monroe, CT
Date: 4-15-17
Camera: Canon EOS Rebel T3i(a), Backyard EOS
Telescope: Orion ED80 80mm
f/7.5 Apochromatic Refractor Telescope
Barlow: None
Focal Length: 600mm
f/7.5
Focal Reducer: Orion 0.8x Focal Reducer for Refractor Telescopes
Mount: Orion Sirius EQ-G GoTo Telescope Mount
Filter: Astrodon UV/IR
Autoguiding: QHY-5L-II-M attached to an Agena 50mm Guide Scope with Helical Focuser
Exposure: 59 x 90s
ISO: 1600
Temp: 7 C
Post Processing: Deep Sky Stacker, Photoshop, Lightroom, Gradient Exterminator, Astronomy Tools, StarTools.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

M51 - The Whirlpool Galaxy

Messier 51 (a.k.a. M51, or The Whirlpool Galaxy M51, or NGC 5194), is an interacting spiral galaxy in the constellation Canes Venatici. It was the first galaxy to be classified as a spiral galaxy.  M51 is approximately 23 million light-years from the from Earth but estimates range between 15 and 35 million light-years. Under very dark skies M51 and its companion galaxy, NGC 5195, can be seen with small aperture telescopes and may even be seen with binoculars. I actually saw it at Boothe Park in Stratford, CT with Elliot Severn's 12" dobsonian (lots of light pollution - 7 on the Bortle Scale). I have always been fascinated with images of this object but never dreamed I would actually be able to image it myself (source: wikipedia).

I managed to get almost 2 hours of exposure when it was directly overhead.  This time of year seems to have many galaxies but not much in the way of nebulae.  That's fine with me.  I have been taking 90 second exposures at ISO 1600 for the galaxies and that has been giving me good results.   

This represents the 69th Messier Object I have imaged using a Canon 600D connected to an Orion ED80 f/7.5. I captured this object on Friday evening and since it cleared up the following evening I got a bonus and was able to capture M101.

Website: https://kurtzeppetello.smugmug.com/

Wide Field

Crop

M51 - The Whirlpool Galaxy
Location: Happy Frog Observatory, Monroe, CT
Date: 4-14-17
Camera: Canon EOS Rebel T3i(a), Backyard EOS
Telescope: Orion ED80 80mm
f/7.5 Apochromatic Refractor Telescope
Barlow: None
Focal Length: 600mm
f/7.5
Focal Reducer: Orion 0.8x Focal Reducer for Refractor Telescopes
Mount: Orion Sirius EQ-G GoTo Telescope Mount
Filter: Astrodon UV/IR
Autoguiding: QHY-5L-II-M attached to an Agena 50mm Guide Scope with Helical Focuser
Exposure: 77 x 90s
ISO: 1600
Temp: 5 C
Post Processing: Deep Sky Stacker, Photoshop, Lightroom, Gradient Exterminator, Astronomy Tools, StarTools.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

M63 - Sunflower Galaxy

Messier 63 (a.k.a. M63, NGC 5055, or the Sunflower Galaxy) is a spiral galaxy in the constellation Canes Venatici.  The galaxy contains a central disc surrounded by many short spiral arm segments. It is part of the M51 Group, a group of galaxies that also includes M51 (the 'Whirlpool Galaxy') which is next on my target list.  Also of note, in 1971, a supernova with a magnitude of 11.8 appeared in one of the arms of M63 (source: wikipedia).

This was last of the nine new Messier objects (eleven counting M81 and M82) I collected in March before the moon reappeared and made deep sky imaging less desirable. It also represents the 68th Messier objects I have captured, only 42 left.  Website: https://kurtzeppetello.smugmug.com/

Crop

Wide Field

M63 - Sunflower Galaxy
Location: Happy Frog Observatory, Monroe, CT
Date: 4-2-17
Camera: Canon EOS Rebel T3i(a), Backyard EOS
Telescope: Orion ED80 80mm
f/7.5 Apochromatic Refractor Telescope
Barlow: None
Focal Length: 600mm
f/7.5
Focal Reducer: Orion 0.8x Focal Reducer for Refractor Telescopes
Mount: Orion Sirius EQ-G GoTo Telescope Mount
Filter: Astrodon UV/IR
Autoguiding: QHY-5L-II-M attached to an Agena 50mm Guide Scope with Helical Focuser
Exposure: 57 x 90s
ISO: 1600
Temp: 5 C
Post Processing: Deep Sky Stacker, Photoshop, Lightroom, Gradient Exterminator, Astronomy Tools, StarTools.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

M81 and M82 revisited!

This is my second go around with these objects.  The first time I shot these was almost two years ago when my processing skill were much more limited, not only that, I only collected 33 minutes of data. This time around I collected 102 minutes of data with the modified camera.  Of course I would have liked to get more time but M81 and M82 only are visible for 35 minute windows from my dedicated concrete pier at the Happy Frog so that 102 minutes is over the course of four nights.  I hate to take the scope off the pier since it perfectly set but until I get another mount I will have to for some objects.

Messier 81 (a.k.a. NGC 3031 or Bode's Galaxy) is a spiral galaxy about 12 million light-years away in the constellation Ursa Major.  It was discovered by Johann Elert Bode on December 31, 1774 and therefore, is sometimes referred to as "Bode's Galaxy".  Messier 82 (also known as NGC 3034, Cigar Galaxy or M82) is a galaxy about 12 million light-years away in the constellation Ursa Major.  M82 is about five times more luminous than the whole Milky Way and has a center one hundred times more luminous than our galaxy's center.  In 2014, in studying M82, scientists discovered the brightest pulsar yet known (source: wikipedia).

Although this will not help my overall Messier count since I captured it already, I am much happier
with the results this time around.

Website: https://kurtzeppetello.smugmug.com/

The Pair

M81 - Bode's Galaxy

M82 - Cigar Galaxy

M81 and M82
Location: Happy Frog Observatory, Monroe, CT
Date: 3-20-17, 3-22-17, 3-23-17, 3-29-17
Camera: Canon EOS Rebel T3i(a), Backyard EOS
Telescope: Orion ED80 80mm
f/7.5 Apochromatic Refractor Telescope
Barlow: None
Focal Length: 600mm
f/7.5
Focal Reducer: Orion 0.8x Focal Reducer for Refractor Telescopes
Mount: Orion Sirius EQ-G GoTo Telescope Mount
Filter: Astrodon UV/IR
Autoguiding: QHY-5L-II-M attached to an Agena 50mm Guide Scope with Helical Focuser
Exposure: 68 x 90s
ISO: 1600
Temp: -1.0 C
Post Processing: Deep Sky Stacker, Photoshop, Lightroom, Gradient Exterminator, Astronomy Tools, StarTools.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Gradient Test With M94

Figure 1 - Processed With Gradient Exterminator

I decided to do a test of removing gradients in astrophotography images using Photoshop as described in a recent post by Trevor Jones of AstroBackyard.com.  In his post, Remove Gradients in Your Astrophotos with Photoshop, Trevor describes a fairly common method of removing gradients using Gradient Exterminator (which I use), but also another method which may give better results in certain cases (Figure 3).

The method involves: 1) Removing the DSO from your image, 2) Creating a synthetic flat frame, and 3) Subtracting the flat frame from your image (Figutre 4).  I am not going to go over the process, Trevor does an excellent job of that and he has a video to go a long with it.  Since I just got done processing M94 as I normally do with Gradient Exterminator and heavy additional processing, I gave the other method a try.  Since I don't use flats (yet), my unprocessed images typically have plenty gradients and not only that, the night I captured M94 the sky looked clear but there must have been some additional moisture or something because many of the subframes were redder than normal.

The results are as follows:

Figure 2 - Minimal Processing (Levels) - Lots of Gradients

Figure 3 - Crop Processed With Gradient Exterminator

Figure 4 - Crop Processed By Subtracting a Synthetic Frame

Conclusions:
As you can see from Figure 2, plenty of gradients and vignetting to start with. The results of processing were good either way at least to me.  The gradients were successfully eliminated in both images and it is arguable which image is better.  So which method involved less processing thus was easier?  I took a while doing the synthetic frame method but that was because I am not familiar with this method not because it is inherently time consuming.  In fact I think this method may ultimately be quicker.  I can see how this method works well for small objects and as Trevor pointed out, not be good for objects which fill up the field of view.

If you have never visited AstroBackyard.com before, I would highly recommend you do.  The site contains easy to follow tutorials and well thought explanations.

https://kurtzeppetello.smugmug.com/

Thursday, April 6, 2017

M94 - The Starburst Galaxy

Messier 94 (a.k.a. as NGC 4736 or Starburst Galaxy) is a spiral galaxy in the constellation Canes Venatici and lies approximately 14.5 million light-years from Earth.  Compared to the Milky Way, this galaxy is about half the size with a diameter of 50,000 light-years across.  It has a bright nucleus compared to other galaxies and really does have a brownish tint.  Looking at Hubble images you can see a lot of dust within the spiral arms. There is also an outer bluish ring, faint in my image with my little ED80 - larger scopes will do a better job with this, where young massive stars are forming. (source: wikipedia, APOD).

Crop

Wide Field

M94 (The Starburst Galaxy)
Location: Happy Frog Observatory, Monroe, CT
Date: 3-29-17
Camera: Canon EOS Rebel T3i(a), Backyard EOS
Telescope: Orion ED80 80mm
f/7.5 Apochromatic Refractor Telescope
Barlow: None
Focal Length: 600mm
f/7.5
Focal Reducer: Orion 0.8x Focal Reducer for Refractor Telescopes
Mount: Orion Sirius EQ-G GoTo Telescope Mount
Filter: Astrodon UV/IR
Autoguiding: QHY-5L-II-M attached to an Agena 50mm Guide Scope with Helical Focuser
Exposure: 56 x 90s
ISO: 1600
Temp: -1.0 C
Post Processing: Deep Sky Stacker, Photoshop, Lightroom, Gradient Exterminator, Astronomy Tools, StarTools.

Crystals

Neat Science! My students are making crystals in General Science class using salt (NaCl), Copper II Sulfate (CuSO4), or sugar (C12H22O11).  A couple of students mixed the CuSO4 solution which is blue with the NaCl solution which is clear and the result was not a lighter blue solution but rather a deep green solution.

Figure 1:  Blue Solution - CuSO4, Green Solution - CuSO4 + NaCl 

The answer to this mystery is with what happens to the copper ion (Cu2+).  The copper ion gives off a blue color when dissolved, however, when the sodium chloride was added chloride ions (Cl-) reacted with the Cu2+ to form a complex ion, Copper(II) tetrachloro complex (the copper ion surrounded by four chlorides), which is green.

Monday, April 3, 2017

A View From My Observatory

The last few weeks I have been imaging several galaxies in around the Big Dipper region of Ursa Major. There are eleven Messier objects associated within this region and I have captured eight of them but only processed four so far. You may notice the trees in the way. Although I do have open sky off to the south and I have a clear opening to Polaris, directly overhead is a challenge. I have to wait for 'windows' but most are around two hours. The ones that are not are M81 and M82 which are only good for about 30 minutes. I imaged for these for 30 minutes over four nights.

There is no camera attached to the ED80 as it was being used to take this photo. If you look closely at the second star of the handle, Mizar, you can see a smaller companion star, Alcor.



Big Dipper
Location: Happy Frog Observatory, Monroe, CT
Date: 4-2-17
Camera: Canon EOS Rebel T3i(a)
Lens: Opteka Fisheye 8mm
Barlow: None
Focal Length: 8mm
f/3.2
Focal Reducer: none
Mount: fixed
Filter: Astrodon UV/IR
Autoguiding: none
Exposure: 1 x 15s
ISO: 1600
Temp: 5 C
Post Processing: Photoshop, Lightroom

Saturday, April 1, 2017

The Leo Triplet

The Leo Triplet (a.k.a. the M66 Group) is a small group of galaxies approximately 35 million light years away in the constellation of Leo.  It consists of the three spiral galaxies M65, M66, and NGC 3628.  From Earth NGC 3628 is on its side and resembles a hamburger and so it is also known as the Hamburger Galaxy.  This galaxy group is very close to the M96 Group captured a couple of days prior.

I collected data over three nights, the first night being the best.  I did a test on the data and decided to share it for anyone who is interested.  As I mentioned the first night (3-22-17) the sky clarity was good. Figure 1 shows a typical sub-frame from that night.

Figure 1 - Decent sub-frame 3-22-17

On day two (3-23-17) I had a mixture of decent sub-frames and some with a small amount of red tint and on day three (3-29-17) most of the sub-frames reddened and it was more severe.  Figure 2 shows a typical sub-frame.

Figure 2 - Typical sub-frame 3-29-17

Obviously the sky was not as good as I had though on the second or third nights so I had a decision that most of have to make, whether to use or not use this data.  I checked the sub-frames carefully in Adobe bridge and deleted any frame with streaking or any other defect (except the red color).  I did two versions with Deep Sky Stacker (DSS) and then processed them in the same way with PS, Astronomy Tools, and LR. Figure 3 shows the Triplet using the 55 frames from 3-22-17 while Figure 4 shows the Triplet with the 111 frames the three nights.

Figure 3 - Processed Image 55 Frames from 3-22-17

Figure 4 - Processed Image 111 Frames from 3-22-17, 3-23-17, 3-29-17

The conclusion, based on my results, is that the additional frames added to thew quality to the image rather than hinder it.  So as long as the frames are sharp (no streaking) and the stars are not masked by clouds or pollution then they are usable, at least for galaxies.

Figure 5 - M65 Crop

Figure 6 - M66 Crop

Figure 7 - NGC 3628 (The Hamburger Galaxy) Crop

M65, M66, NGC3628 (The Hamburger Galaxy)
Location: Happy Frog Observatory, Monroe, CT
Date: 3-22-17, 3-23-17, 3-29-17
Camera: Canon EOS Rebel T3i(a), Backyard EOS
Telescope: Orion ED80 80mm
f/7.5 Apochromatic Refractor Telescope
Barlow: None
Focal Length: 600mm
f/7.5
Focal Reducer: Orion 0.8x Focal Reducer for Refractor Telescopes
Mount: Orion Sirius EQ-G GoTo Telescope Mount
Filter: Astrodon UV/IR
Autoguiding: QHY-5L-II-M attached to an Agena 50mm Guide Scope with Helical Focuser
Exposure: 55 x 90s, 30 x 90s, 26 x 90s
ISO: 1600
Temp: -1.0 C
Post Processing: Deep Sky Stacker, Photoshop, Lightroom, Gradient Exterminator, Astronomy Tools.