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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About the Perseids meteors and the Pleiades open cluster…

As you may know, the last 2 days the Earth has been bombed by dust grains and boulders. These are remnants from the dust tail of a 26km tall comet which flies by every 130 years or so. Every year on August 12-13 the Earth travels through this dust tail which slams into our atmosphere at 58km/second, leaving behind brilliant glowing tails in the night sky. These are known as shooting stars or meteors and as many as 130 of them per hour can be seen under dark skies.

But skies aren’t that dark when the meteor shower coincides with a super Moon, as happened 2 days ago. This super Moon appears when the full Moon (which is in an elliptical orbit) is on its closest point to Earth. So aside from being at its most illuminated phase, it also appears brighter because it is as close to us as it will ever get. On a late walk 2 days ago, the Moon appeared as a small Sun, brightly illuminating the environment as though it was daytime. (Ok, not as though it was daytime, but it surely wasn’t dark…)

Unfortunately for us, the Moon brightened the night sky so much, that it was very hard for the meteors to stand out and the amount of visible meteors was estimated at a peak rate of 58 per hour. So compared to the 122 per hour of 2 years ago, this year’s Perseids meteor shower (yep, that’s what it’s called) wasn’t that spectacular. Below is a post processed attempt to photograph some very bright stars near the moon to illustrate the super Moon’s brightness.

Supermoon over illuminating the night sky

Super Moon over illuminating the night sky

In other news….. A few weeks ago I posted this photo of the galaxies M81 and M82:

Spiral galaxies M81 and M82 in Ursa Major

Spiral galaxies M81 and M82 in Ursa Major

In this photo, you can see that the galaxies are just too faint and smallĀ (only a few pixels big) to be properly photographed with a 80mm lens. So I imaged them through my telescope at 650mm focal length to get a well magnified view of the pair. Finding them had been difficult in the past, because they look like faint smudges through my 90mm refractor. This night however, I saw them almost instantly and took 30 0.5 second images with the DSLR on the 130mm telescope.

Galaxies M81 and M82 imaged through the telescope in 30 x 0.5 sec short exposures

Galaxies M81 and M82 imaged through the telescope in 30 x 0.5 sec short exposures

As you can see, the galaxies are quite faint and difficult to extract from the background noise. Nevertheless, in this image the galaxies are more pronounced than in the wide field image and the cigar shape of M82 is clearly visible.

Late at night, or very early in the morning, I can see the Pleiades open cluster from here. The Pleiades cluster (Messier 45) is the brightest open cluster we can see and is clearly visible to the unaided eye. This is what M45 looks like in a stacked image of 5 x 4-second exposures with an 80mm lens:

Open cluster M45 (Pleiades) imaged with 80mm lens in 5 frames of 4 seconds

Open cluster M45 (Pleiades) imaged with an 80mm lens in 5 frames of 4 seconds

And this is the same cluster imaged through my f/5 reflector telescope:

Open cluster M45 (Pleiades) through 650mm f/5 telescope

Open cluster M45 (Pleiades) through 650mm f/5 telescope

As I have no automatic guiding system yet, I had to keep the exposure time limited to 0.5 seconds and couldn’t capture the blue-ish glow faintly seen in the 80mm photo. Someday I hope to take a longer exposure of several minutes to resolve the brilliant blue reflection nebula that surrounds the stars.