Clusters, Galaxies and a Planetary Nebula

At last some astrophotographer-friendly weather conditions! Ever since February seeing conditions have been very poor and I have only managed to shoot 3 images in March. First of which was of the Leo triplet, that – as the name may have given away – is situated in the constellation Leo.

The bottom galaxy (NGC3628) is seen ‘edge on’ and the disc of dust causes the galaxy to appear as 2 bright lines. The other 2 are M65 and M66. All 3 are spiral galaxies.

Leo Triplet; a cluster of 3 closely packed galaxies

Leo Triplet; a cluster of 3 closely packed galaxies

The number of nice globular clusters visible in March in the Netherlands (at a reasonable hour) is rather low. The best is probably M3, which I decided to give a go. The result is the image below. Locating the cluster was hard because it was rather low near the horizon and nearby soccer field lighting made things even more difficult. Globular cluster M3 contains the mind blowing amount of half-a-million stars and lies about 34 thousand light years from Earth.

M3, a globular cluster in Canes Venatici

M3, a globular cluster in Canes Venatici

The last image from the one night I imaged in March, is one of M51. I also imaged this object in February, but at that time it was very low and I didn’t take as much frames as I did now. The image below shows clear blue-purple spiral arms, but I think I haven’t gotten focus quite right when I took the photos.

M51; the Whirlpool Galaxy, also in Canes Venatici

M51; the Whirlpool Galaxy, also in Canes Venatici

Two nights ago was the first clear night of April in this area and I just couldn’t resist to get the telescope out again. Just after midnight, the constellation Lyra was high enough for the Ring Nebula to be imagable from The Netherlands. I have imaged planetary nebula M57 before, but it only showed a green ring and nothing of the yellow and red assymetry was visible. The image below is the result of a 30 frame stack, 30 seconds each and shows a very bright Ring Nebula with the colors I missed before.

M57; the Ring Nebula

M57; the Ring Nebula

The other deep sky object I imaged was the greatest of all globular clusters: M13 in Hercules. I have also imaged M13 before and again I am happy with the improvement. It appears way larger than M3, but that is probably due to it being closer to us (25 thousand light years) because it contains about 200.000 stars less than M3.

M13; the Great Cluster in Hercules

M13; the Great Cluster in Hercules

A nice bonus is the smudge in the bottom of the last image. It is galaxy NGC6207 located some 46 MILLION light years from here. So the light emitted by NGC6207 has traveled for 46 million years only to end up in my camera sensor. Unless I have missed some other distant smudge in one of my images, this probably is the oldest light my camera has ever caught!

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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