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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Comet Lovejoy in a Wide Field Astrophoto

Last Wednesday, when the thickest of clouds momentarily (30 minutes!) made way, I took my chance and photographed comet Lovejoy with a bare DSLR and zoomlens. Sadly, by the time I would have finished setting up a telescope, clouds would have been back, making the skies look like a white/orange blanket again. Maybe someday I will have the opportunity to make a high detail photo of the comet and its tail of dust, but for now I’m really happy that I was able to take this picture of it.

A quick shot of comet Lovejoy with zoomlens at 30mm and ISO 6400

A quick shot of comet Lovejoy with zoomlens at 30mm and ISO 6400

The image shows a rather wide star field just above and to the right of the Orion constellation. The constellation in this photo is called Taurus and is recognizable by the distinct V-formation of the brightest stars (here oriented as  > ). Apart form the bright orange star (Aldebaran), all the stars that make up the V are part of the Hyades cluster and were “born” around the same time. The little bunch of stars in the top are the Pleiades or M45, which I have shown you before in greater detail.

But what the photo really is about, is the bright green-ish comet Lovejoy in the right of the image. Very faintly, a hint of the tail is visible on the left of the comets nucleus. This tail consists mainly of ionized carbonmonoxide and is over 5 million kilometers long. The green color of the nucleus itself comes from diatomic carbon that reflects the sunlight.

Given that I took this picture on a very windy evening, with my camera on a not-so-sturdy mount that was hanging on my window frame, I was quite surprised with this decent result. 🙂