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.

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