Nebulae, galaxies, open clusters, a supernova remnant and a planet…

The fact that I didn’t post something for a while has nothing to do with me giving up my astrophotography hobby. Better yet, it causes me to have a boatload of astrophotos to show you. February appears to have been quite the productive month for me, more on that later.

First of all, I got a pretty decent shot of the galaxy couple M81 and M82. It shows some red detail in M82 (top left) and 2 distinct dust lanes around M81. They do not just appear close in this image, they are actually quite close to each other. Close enough in fact, for the galactic gravitational fields to enhance star formation in the other galaxy.

The M81 and M82 galaxies

The M81 and M82 galaxies

Now, most of the images I post here are stacks that represent total exposure times of 10 minutes or more. But of my favourite target, the Great Nebula in Orion, I got only some 10 decent frames of 30 seconds each. When I realised this, shooting a pile of good M42 photos became my top telescope-priority. The image below is the result of stacking 40 30-second photos and shows some really cool detail in the dust clouds. Also, a faint blue bow is noticably which marks the top of the entire nebula. In the dark region between the bright nebula and the upper blue bow is filled with red, even fainter gas clouds. Longer exposure times will probably reveal more of this.

My best M42 so far. If your screen is bright, or you look at it from an angle, you can even make out the top bow.

My best M42 so far. If your screen is bright, or you look at it from an angle, you can even make out the top bow.

In my previous post, I showed you my first photo of the Flame and Horsehead nebula. I figured that if I used my f10 telescope, I would get a more detailed view of the small horsehead feature. Sadly, I didn’t manage to get a good image of the Horsehead Nebula, but I did get a cool Jupiter. Since I haven’t had my camera attached to my f10 with Jupiter high in the night skies, I decided to give it a go and actually captured Jupiter’s Great Red Spot (bottom right of the planet, in the red belt).

Jupiter captures with dslr on evening with pretty poor seeing (about 60 frames)

Jupiter captures with dslr on evening with pretty poor seeing (about 60 frames)

I also tried to capture M35, which also didn’t turn out very great, like the Horsehead Nebula. I think my light pollution filter doesn’t work very well with the optics in the f10. But as this image is already way better than what I got from the Horsehead Nebula and it shows a lot of brilliant stars, why not post it here right?

M35; an open cluster

M35; an open cluster

After 2 weeks of constant cloud cover, a few days ago I got the opportunity to take some shots between pathes of fast floating clouds. The allmost full moon gave my photos a small gradient, which became a big gradient after stretching the intensity levels. Nevertheless I got a quite cool image of M1; the Crab Nebula. I especially like how star-littered the image is and that the nebula itself is a remnant of a supernova explosion in the year 1054.

M1; the Crab Nebula. A supernova remnant from an explosion in 1054.

M1; the Crab Nebula. A supernova remnant from an explosion in 1054.

Another image I took was one of the Pleiades. More 30 second images and the use of a light pollution filter gave me better results than before. More surrounding dust clouds are apparent and I also like how the optics cause bright circles around the stars that translate with the position in the image.

M45; the Pleiades star cluster traveling through clouds of dust

M45; the Pleiades star cluster traveling through clouds of dust

If you recall that I also captured M51 and the Flame and Horsehead Nebulae earlier this month, you probably figure that all the photos together would make a great poster. At least, that’s what I did… So here it is: The first JCdeBoer.com-poster-of-the-month!

Poster of all the astrophotos I shot this February

Poster of all the astrophotos I shot this February

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The Flame Nebula and the Whirlpool Galaxy

While browsing through my old raw photographs, I stumbled upon an unnoticed hint of the flame nebula. I take these photographs to check if I’ve got everything on frame as I want it to. At the time, I must have been looking with something else than my eyes, because the flame nebula was right there!

Notice the flame nebula in the left of this single frame

Notice the flame nebula in the left of this single frame

So when I had the chance, I aimed my telescope towards the same region. Focusing took a long time as the air was quite turbulent at the moment and venting chimneys also seemed to complicate things. When I was somewhat satisfied, I took about 20 30second frames. After stacking and post processing, I obtained the following image which shows both the Flame Nebula and a hint of the Horsehead Nebula.

10x30 second rgb stack. Although the skies were clear, seeing was poor due to smoking chimneys and atmospheric turbulence.

20×30 second rgb stack. Although the skies were clear, seeing was poor due to smoking chimneys and atmospheric turbulence.

The Horsehead Nebula is actually a black gas cloud. It is shaped like a horse’s head and obstructs light coming from the red nebula in the background. The shape of a horse’s head is not visible in this photo, but you can see a black filament hanging over the red region.

Black nebulae are actually very common and often play a major role in the appearance of more colorful nebulae. Take the yellow Flame Nebula for example. Is mainly just a yellow/orangy gas cloud, but it gets its flame-like appearance from the black nebulae in front of it.

After nebulae, galaxies are probably the coolest targets to photograph. I have given the galaxies denoted by M51 and M101 a try a while ago, when I was shooting 0.8 second frames. Now that I can take 30 second images without trailing, I decided to give the Whirlpool Galaxy (M51) another go. I shot just 10 frames. Which is not a lot, considering that M51 was very low near the horizon with a very turbulent atmosphere. But as I could just barely make out the galaxy in a single frame, I wanted to see what I could image rather than produce the highest quality image. The result is a quite noisy image, because I had to really crank contrast up to the max. Soon I will shoot more frames of M51, when it is higher in the sky and I can use my light pollution filter again.

M51; the Whirlpool Galaxy interacting with its dwarf companion NGC 5195. M51 was very low at the horizon at the time of shooting.

M51; the Whirlpool Galaxy interacting with its dwarf companion NGC 5195. M51 was very low at the horizon at the time of shooting.