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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The Moon, Albireo, M39, M13 and M11

A couple of weeks ago I promised to capture some cool images of double stars, open clusters and globular clusters. Unfortunately, my attempts were seriously hampered by ever returning clouds, but last night I finally had a few hours of clear skies. As always when the moon is visible I captured a nice shot of it:

SIngle exposure of last night's moon

Single exposure of last night’s moon

But by now, we kind of know the moon images right? So I’d like to show you Albireo:

Double star Albireo

Double star Albireo

Albireo is a double star that consists of Ablireo A (Orange) and Alibreo B (Blue-ish). To the naked eye, Albireo is just a single star, but through a telescope Albireo A and B become distuinguishable.

On my to-shoot-list was also the M81 M82 galaxy pair. But by the time it was dark enough to align and focus on polaris, the galaxies were well behind the chimney. Another thing on my list was trying to manually guide my telescope with the shutter open and that also didn’t go very well.

Another image I promised was a telescopic view of the open cluster M39, which I previously imaged with a 80mm lens. While the image may not be the most exciting astrophoto at first sight, M39 surely is interesting. All the brightest stars in the image are blue. No yellow, orange or red giants, which are more common, but just rarer blue stars.

Telescopic view of open cluster M39

Telescopic view of open cluster M39

I also shot my first globular cluster through the telescope. This is M13 (Great cluster in Hercules) which I also imaged before:

M13 globular cluster in Hercules

M13 globular cluster in Hercules

This image is a stack of 30 0.5 second frames and shows a cluster of a large amount of stars. Hundreds more can be seen in longer exposures, which I can’t do since I don’t have a guided mount. The Hercules cluster is the brightest cluster of the northern skies.

At the end of the evening I shot 30 images of the Wild Duck open cluster (Messier 11). It is called the Wild Duck cluster because it somehow resembles a flight of ducks. But to be honest, it doesn’t look like a flight of ducks any more than any other open cluster… Anyway, I like it as the closing picture of this post:

M11 Wild Duck cluster

M11 Wild Duck cluster