Here’s an interesting pairing in the night sky. Meet M97 planetary nebula and M108 spiral galaxy from the Messier Catalog of deep sky objects. While they look side by side from our perspective here on Earth, M97 is actually 2,600 light years distant while the Surfboard galaxy M108 is a whopping 45 million light years away!
Both M97 and M108 can be found in the constellation of Ursa Major (aka The Big Dipper). They are only 2 degrees away from the bright star Merak in the bowl of the Big Dipper.
In this video above, I’m imaging M97 and M108 with my telescope. Go behind the scenes with me and see how the data is captured using SGP acquisition software and processed in Pixinsight!
Meet the galaxy M33, also known as the Triangulum galaxy. I acquired this data over a few nights in January 2019. Total of 8.5 hours, HaLRGB.
M33 is in the constellation Triangulum around 2.5 million light years distant and has a diameter of around 60,000 light years. Its relative closeness to us has it display a wealth of detail in images. Numerous red emission nebula can be seen scattered throughout it.
The LRGB data was captured during mostly moonless nights. The Ha data was taken when the moon was only a day past full. Overall I’m quite pleased with this image.
M33 is located in the constellation of Triangulum which is a small acute triangle like shape below the constellation of Andromeda. “The Triangulum Galaxy is a spiral galaxy approximately. It is catalogued as Messier 33 or NGC 598, and is sometimes informally referred to as the Pinwheel Galaxy, a nickname it shares with Messier 101. The Triangulum Galaxy is the third-largest member of the Local Group of galaxies, which includes the Milky Way, the Andromeda Galaxy and about 30 other smaller galaxies. It is one of the most distant permanent objects that can be viewed with the naked eye.”
This is with data acquired in September and October 2018 from my backyard in Kitchener, Ontario. Using a Skywatcher Esprit 100mm triplet refractor and a Moravian G3-16200EC CCD camera.
I recently moved my astro setup to my backyard where there is less light pollution to contend with. While I reduce the impact of lights while imaging, I have 70ft trees that block half my sky. It was a trade off I made in order to have what I call a semi-permanent setup. It doesn’t require as much to get up and running now and I can image all night if weather permits. These benefits outweighed losing some of my sky, IMO. I’m still able to image a vast amount of targets though. M31 the Andromeda Galaxy is one such jewel of the night sky.
This is the first time I’ve imaged M31 with my new G3-16200EC CCD camera. It has a large chip and pixel size than the ASI 1600MMC cmos camera I was using previous. The image itself appears sharper and more colourful. I also find the stars look better, not as bloated, as with the ASI camera. You can view the previous M31 image here.
This image uses a synthetic luminance channel I created from the R-G-B channels. It should also be noted there is no H-alpha data in this as I did not have opportunity to collect it. That being said, the red nebulosity regions within M31 still stand out quite well.
Skywatcher Esprit 100mm APO triplet refractor, F5.5
I imaged M3 Andromeda galaxy from my driveway in the suburbs of Kitchener, Ontario. I definitely have my share of light pollution occurring around me. From a new LED street light shining across onto my property, to neighbours with unshielded porch lights turned on while they are inside and in some cases left on all night while they are asleep. I do my best to manage the situation. I must admit though, I would prefer if home owners didn’t leave their outdoor lights on when there not even outside! It is a waste of energy to say the least. Multiplied by tens of thousands or more homes with multiple lights left on, it all adds up, contributing to climate change and negative impacts on our night environment.
The photo shows what I’m contending with in terms of light pollution and light trespass from various sources around me. This is where I do my hands on astrophotography from though, so I have to make the best of what I have. Even with all my advocacy work over the last 10 years, light pollution is increasing in Kitchener (Waterloo Region). It’s really quite crazy if not frustrating.
One of the benefits of using a monochrome camera to image (in my case the ASI1600MM-C) is it’s not as effected by the light pollution as a one shot colour camera. It’s still effected but less. Being able to take images in separate colour channels and even narrowband channels, helps to minimize problems a bit.
Ideally though a dark sky would be much better. I really enjoy when I get the opportunities to image from the cottage up north. Imaging from my driveway in the suburbs I probably have to shoot somewhere around 10x as much data from my suburban driveway to come close to what I could acquire from a dark site. That isn’t also possible either given other life commitments and weather. Alas, even once remote areas are slowly being affected by light from cities and towns. Skyglowand light domes from cities can reach more than 100KM into rural areas.
Below: A peak behind the scenes of processing the M31 Andromeda Galaxy data. Shown are some of the monochrome channels (R-G-B), a mask used for isolating and protecting specific parts of the image during processing. On right is a near completed colour image.
I performed some more test imaging with the ASI1600mm-cooled camera. This time I centered the telescope and camera on M31, the great Andromeda galaxy. I have imaged M31 before a few years ago using different equipment. This galaxy is a popular target at this time in the northern hemisphere when it rises high in the north-east sky on cool crisp Autumn evenings.
This is a 90 minute image comprised of individual L-R-G-B frames. Each frame is 60 seconds exposure length at 2×2 binning. No drizzle was used during assembly.
The ASI1600 monochrome cooled camera is quite remarkable in capabilities. The capabilities of it utilizing short exposures is going to be very interesting to explore as I do more imaging with it. Unfortunately we are coming into “cloudy season” here in southern Ontario, Canada as the Winter months approach. There may not be much imaging happen depending on cloud cover and how cold it gets.
While I’ve done imaging in -21deg Celsius weather, it is not something I enjoyed or wish to repeat anytime soon!
Stay tuned for more updates about ASI1600mm-cooled camera.
M33 the Triangulum Galaxy is located about 14 degrees below the famous and great Andromeda galaxy M31. The easiest way to find M33 with binoculars is to start with M31 in the FOV then slowly follow the brighter stars down, past the double star Mirach by about 7 degrees and you’ll see a small faint glowing patch of light – you’ve found M33!
M33 is located in the constellation of Triangulum which is a small acute triangle like shape below the constellation of Andromeda. It’s actually situated a little up and over from the Triangulum constellation — around the 1-o’clock position lets say. See the finder chart below right.
“The Triangulum Galaxy is a spiral galaxy approximately 3 million light years (ly) from Earth. It is catalogued as Messier 33 or NGC 598, and is sometimes informally referred to as the Pinwheel Galaxy, a nickname it shares with Messier 101. The Triangulum Galaxy is the third-largest member of the Local Group of galaxies, which includes the Milky Way, the Andromeda Galaxy and about 30 other smaller galaxies. It is one of the most distant permanent objects that can be viewed with the naked eye.”*
I took this photograph in the early morning hours of August 11th, between 1:30am and 4:30am EDT. It was a spectacular clear and dark night Aug 10th evening and stretching through into the morning of Aug 11th up in northern Ontario at the cottage. The sky up there is much darker than my usual imaging site which is closer to large urban cities. These cities cast their light pollution up into my night sky washing out the stars.
The cottage night sky, and on this night in particular, provided excellent contrast and detail for faint deepsky objects such as M33. An astrophotographers dream in terms of photographic conditions in my neck of the woods!
This image is a total of 200 minutes of colour data obtained as 10-minute subs. I used the Orion 10-inch astrograph reflector along with my reliable workhorse the Canon DSLR modified 350D 8MP camera. A Skywatcher EQ6 mount was used for tracking, along with an Orion starshoot autoguider, PHD (guiding) and Nebulosity 3 for acquisition. (This is short exposure image taken with a C925 and ASI1600mc of M33 in 2016 for some testing I was doing.)
The majority of processing was done in PixInsight with some added noise reduction applied within Photoshop using masks. I had to go a little heavy on the noise reduction because I did not take dark frames along with this data. Why no darks? It was late and I had just swung the scope over to M33 from the Cocoon Nebula. I was much more interested in getting it going again and leave it to image for the remainder of the night — I’d finally be getting some sleep while my photon collector worked tirelessly through the night which is opposite to most nights spent imaging.
Those of you not familiar with astro-imaging using a DSLR, you will need to take what are called “darks”. These are a series of exposures the same length as your sub frames (also called lights) but either the scope is covered or the camera is so that no light at all reaches the sensor. What this does is creates a record of the noise being generated within your images. You can then stack these dark frames making a master-dark frame and subtract the noise from your sub/light frames. This makes the image look much cleaner and smoother.
The darks should be done around the same temperature as the sub/light frames are acquired. Noise levels in DSLRs can vary with temperature change. I usually take 4-6 darks in the middle of my imaging run, after the camera has been working and warmed up – the night temperature stabilized. I also take another 4-6 darks at the end of my imaging session. I then combine all of these into a master-dark frame.
Some people take darks before the start of their imaging session but this I have concluded isn’t a good approach because your DSLR will heat up after a short while and the temperature usually changes getting into the overnight hours which would make those dark frames wrong essentially – you can even be injected noise into your images instead of removing it by doing dark frames the wrong way!
I’ve seen M33 in binoculars in occasion. When you know where to look it’s not that difficult to find it. It doesn’t look like much — a small and faint fuzzy patch in the night sky. Much smaller than the Andromeda galaxy looks in binoculars.
“The Triangulum Galaxy M33 was probably discovered by the Italian astronomer Giovanni Battista Hodierna before 1654. The galaxy was independently discovered by Charles Messier on the night of August 25–26, 1764. It was published in his Catalog of Nebulae and Star Clusters (1771) as object number 33; hence the name M33. It seems to be linked to its larger neighbour the Andromeda Galaxy M31. Suggested future scenarios for M33 include being torn apart and absorbed by Andromeda, fueling the latter with hydrogen to form new stars; eventually exhausting all of its gas, and thus the ability to form new stars; or participating in the collision between the Milky Way and M31, most likely ending up orbiting the merger product of the latter two galaxies and fusing with it much later. Two other possibilities are a collision with the Milky Way before Andromeda arrives or an ejection out of the Local Group.”*
In the upper-left of my M33 photo you can see the red blotch which is NGC 604 – an H II region inside the Triangulum Galaxy. “It was discovered by William Herschel on September 11, 1784. It is one of the largest H II regions in the Local Group of galaxies; at the galaxy’s estimated distance of 2.7 million light-years its longest diameter is roughly 1500 light years (460 parsecs), over 40 times the size of the visible portion of the Orion Nebula. It is over 6300 times more luminous than the Orion Nebula, and if it were at the same distance it would outshine Venus.”*
Whatever the fate of M33 it is definitely a top-pick for astrophotographers – a challenge of sorts trying to capture the dim details of it’s relatively low surface brightness while not blowing out the central core details.
I’ve imaged the M81 and M82 galaxies before with other telescopes. These two neighbours form a striking pair in even small telescopes. Both are around 12-million light years away from Earth.
Both are quite extraordinary in their own right. From the fantastic spiral structure and detail in M81 which harbours a 70-million solar masses supermassive black hole, to the glowing hydrogen filaments emanating from M82.
I have been interested in trying out my new Orion 10″ f/3.9 Newtonian Astrograph I had acquired over the Winter. Having used a Celestron CPC 800 8in SCT and a Skywatcher Equinox 80mm ED APO Refractor for a few years now, I am curious to see the results.
The data acquisition was done using Nebulosity 3. PHD and the Orion StarShoot AutoGuider for autoguiding. A Baader MPCC (Multi-Purpose Coma Corrector) was used as well, which is a must for any Newtonian, especially fast focal lengths. This will help flatten the field of view, so you’re stars on the outside edge are pin point and not oval shaped.