Monday, May 24, 2010

Whirlpool Galaxy

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One of most popular galaxies for amateur astronomers is the Whirlpool Galaxy, a grand spiral in the consetllation Canes Venatici.  Even though it is 23 million light years away, it can be seen as a fuzzy spot of light in a pair of binoculars, although you will need dark skies away from the city lights and know exactly where to look.  In a telescope, the spiral structure starts to be seen along with a smaller galaxy seemingly attached to one of the spiral arms of the larger galaxy.
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But only through long exposure photographs can we see detail that is too faint for our eyes.  The top image is a view of the whole area covered by my 1000mm focal length telescope.  Back in March, 2009, I took an image of this galaxy with my 300mm telephoto lens.  Compare this view with the much wider view of that lens by clicking on this link:
The bottom image is a close-up view showing the interaction taking place between the two galaxies.  Radio astronomers have been able to show that the smaller galaxy has merged with the larger one at least twice before.  The faint extensions seen around the galaxies are caused by material from both galaxies being flung out by the gravitational forces during the interactions.

The image is a combination of five 10-minute exposures with my 190mm f/5.3 telescope.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Great Balls of Fire

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Not the Jerry Lee Lewis rock 'n' roll rendition, but it really is a great ball of stars.  Some 500,000 stars, this is a Globular Cluster named M3.  This is because it is the 3rd object in a catalog of 110 objects created by Charles Messier in the late 18th century.  Like bees around a hive, these stars orbit around each other.  50% of the mass is within the central 22 light years, but there are stars rotating the main mass out to about 750 light years.  As we look at this cluster from a distance of some 34,000 light years, it seems that stars are touching each other, but they are not.  They are still very far apart, but if the Earth were inside M3, our sky would be very bright with no night sky.
Imaging Telescope: Orion Mak-Newt, 190mm, f/5.3, 1000mm focal length mounted on a Celestron CGE mount.
Guide Camera and Guidescope: CCD-Labs Q-Guider on a 50mm finderscope.
Acquisition Camera: CCD-Labs Q-453.
Exposures: Ten frames, 1 minute each.
Calibration Software:  DeepSkyStacker was used to stacked 20 Bias frames and 20 flat frames, then the 10 light frames were calibrated.
Final Process: Photoshop CS3

Monday, May 17, 2010

Venus and Moon

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The crescent Moon and Venus put on a fine show from my daughter's front yard in Castle Rock, Colorado this evening (05-16-2010).

Two second exposure on my tripod mounted Canon digital XTi at ISO 800 with my 18-55mm lens set at 31mm and f/5.6.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Galaxies In The Spring Sky

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Here is the first Deep Sky image taken with the new telescope mentioned in an earlier post.  Taken from my front yard in Cleveland, MO, this is a Triplet of Galaxies in the constellation Leo.  Individually they are M65 (top right), M66 (bottom right) and NGC 3628 (left).  All grand spiral disks made up of stars, gas and dust, but look dissimilar because they are tilted at different angles from our view.  Below are close up views of each galaxy.  Notice that the outer parts of the disks in M66 and NGC 3628 are distorted.  This is due to the gravitational interaction of each galaxy on each other.