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.

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