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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My New and Improved Ring Nebula, Dumbbell Nebula and Pleiades Open Cluster

As you may remember, I had my telescope out at the time of writing last post. At that time I already noticed that I was too late to get an awesome image of the Ring Nebula, I took better photos of the Dumbbell Nebula at different settings and tried to capture some Pleiades nebulosity. While working on last post, I was waiting for clouds to pass over, but eventually, they didn’t.

I think I’d better postpone my efforts to capture a glimpse of the Horsehead and Flame Nebula untill the Orion constellation is higher, somewhere in December, Januari… Apparently I live in an area where amateur astronomers are being terrorized every evening by foggy skies. By the time deep sky objects in Orion are high enough to be imaged, fog has already kicked in.

Nevertheless, as I mentioned, I also shot some decend images of other objects. I started with the Ring Nebula. But after my first test image, the photos became too faint because the roof was partially obstructing the view. The single frame I did get turned out quite nice by the way:

A single frame of the Ring Nebula.

A single frame of the Ring Nebula.

When I manage to get more and longer exposures of the ring nebula, it should display more yellow and red features.

As quickly as I found the Ring Nebula, it took me over 10 minutes to get the Dumbbell Nebula (M27) in view. I took 12 good 15 seconds frames at ISO 6400 and 7 good 30 second frames at ISO 1600. The ISO 1600 frames showed less noise and stacked nicer so I used those to get the image below. I really like the amount of stars visible in the image. M27 is located in the constellation Cygnus which lies exactly over the star littered arm of the Milky Way.

Long exposure stack of the Dumbbell Nebula (m27)

Long exposure stack of the Dumbbell Nebula (M27)

My 5 stacked 30 second exposures of the Pleiades open cluster (M45) do finally show some faint blue nebulosity around the stars. Especially the lowest of the 6 brightest stars shows a glow with a well defined edge. The lines at the bottom right are the remains of an airplane saying ‘Hi’ while I was imaging.

Really faint, some blue nebulosity is visible in this image of m45. Especially the strokes that are caused by stellar winds.

Really faint, some blue nebulosity is visible in this image of m45. Especially the strokes that are caused by stellar winds.