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Posts Tagged ‘M101’

After a hiatus of about four years I am back into deep sky video astronomy with both feet. The object of this form of astronomy is to provide live video views at the telescope – under the stars – which show far more detail in faint, distant objects than can be seen visually with the eye at the telescope. The video camera, a special one made by hand in Canada by Rock Mallin, simply slides into the telescope where the eyepiece normally goes.

This is not rocket science, but there are a lot of options, a lot of wires, and some stuff to learn, so at this stage my efforts are crude, but I’m happy with the results. I don’t see this as competing with still imaging where much different cameras are used to take super pictures which are then enhanced the next day in the computer.  What you see here is raw video – what you would see if you stood by the telescope and looked at the video screen. I discussed the reasons for doing this  in detail in a post about six years ago when I first tried deep sky video.

Yeah, Driftway Way Observatory looks a bit techy these days with all the wires and things 😉 That little screen about the size of a deck of cards is the recording device from Orion. It includes a nice monitor which is shown here displaying a menu. The whole thing is small and light enough to ride ont he telescope. (Click image for a larger view.)

Last night I tried for the first time  an Orion StarShoot LCD-DVR recorder – this is a new item – so new the Orion sales and technical folks could not answer my questions a couple weeks ago because they hadn’t seen one yet. So I decided to buy one and give it a try, since Orion has a reasonable return policy. My assessment? Neat. I like it. But then. I’ve only spent an hour with it. However, let’s cut to the chase. Here are most of the recorded videos from last night.

My first stop was M3, a globular cluster , and the different versions of it you see on the followingvideo are due to my playing with the MallinCam controls -sometimes taking very short exposures, sometimes longer ones. Also, the  drives on the LX-200R hadn’t really settled down yet, so you don’t get a satisfying – to me – view until the end of this brief clip.

About viewing these clips –

1. Enlarge to full screen if possible by clicking box in lower left.

2. Don’t treat like a normal video – there is no relevant sound and there is virtually no action. When you see something you like, pause and view as a still image.

3. Make liberal use of the slider beneath the video to jump from one section of the video to another.

Colliding galaxies

This next one is of one of my favorite galaxies – or rather, colliding galaxies – M51. Though I have viewed this countless times over the past 40 years or more, this is the first time I was really aware that the core of the smaller galaxy is much brighter than the core of the larger one. (I explore just that idea in another video later.)

I jumped from M51 to a much different subject, the Owl Nebulae in Ursa Major – M97.  I have always found this planetary nebular difficult visually, but in the video it’s fairly easy to see how it got its nickname. This won’t be obvious until I increase the exposure in the second half of the video.

From the Owl I went to another difficult, but astounding subject, m101, the great Pinwheel Galaxy just off the Big Dipper’s handle. This is notoriously hard to see visually, but the spiral structure, while subtle is easily seen – especially in the longer exposures near the end of this video.

M81 is best known, perhaps,a s the companion of M82. The two galaxies are fairly near to one another – and to us (11 million light years) and both can be seen int he same binocular field of view. They are quite different. M81 is a bright spiral – however, the spiral structure takes alot of exposure to bring out and only becomes apparent inthe second half of this video.

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Well,I didn’t count them, but that’s what it felt like ths morning – several zillion stars at least and countless aged photons – and all being drawn into mye eyes and mind after a multi-million light year journey to my inexpensive 15X70 Celstrons and slightly more expensive 20X60 Pentax binoculars.

Part of the inspiration for this little journey was having just watched a Nova in which one of the main features was the incredible Ultra Deep Field image taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2004.  Here it is.
Hubble Ultra Deep Field Image Reveals Galaxies Galore
Source: Hubblesite.org

Now what gets me is, of course, that this image shows a tiny section of sky and in it what looks to the casual eye like a lot of faint, blurry stars is nothing but one distant – and huge – galaxy after another – and each galaxy containing something in the order of 100 billion stars or more.  Now that’s beyond mind blowing. That just leaves my little bunny brain neurons numb. Mind blowing of an order I can handle is what you can do in your own backyard – or in my case, on the back deck – with relatively simple instruments – binoculars – aided tremendously by a flexible mount, such as the  one I have  which is a standard parallelogram mount made some years ago by Charles Funk.

That mount makes using the binoculars a pleasure – holds them steady and allows you to bring them to your eyes without the usual gymnastics and neck strain that binoculars just mounted on a tripod would bring.  And yes, it was cold – but reasonably so – right around the freezing mark. And it was clear – super clear, but not so great in the “seeing” department which is why I decided to focus on the faint fuzzies and see if I could make some binocular inroads into the  Virgo Cluster of Galaxies – our local gang, so to speak.

My starting point was simple enough – I looked at the spot halfway between Denebola at the tail of Leo and Vindemiatrix and Virgo.  Well, that’s where I was told to look in some direction I read.  I’ve prowled this area many times, but with big telescopes.  The binoculars, with their much wider field, would, I felt, give me a better feel for what all is there – if I could see any of it.  There’s a wonderful chain of galaxies in that general vicinity and I know some of them are within reach of the binoculars.

Denebolar at the tail of Leo and Arcturus provide good guide for getting pointed in the right direction. The Virgo Cluster galaxies are in and about the general vicinity of the target shown. (SkySafari Pro screen shot, modified. Click to enlarge.)

Well that didn’t work! Not with the 15X70s anyway, so I decided to start with Vindemiatrix and work my way westward towards Denebola.  The first thing that caught my eye was this great triangle of stars with a bright one right in the middle of it. That’s the guide point I love because it jumps right out at you when you pan across the general area with binoculars. Here’s how it showed up in SkySafari 3 on my Ipad. (Yeah, I was ducking in and out to a warm room with only a red light on.)

This triangle with a bright star in the center was the kind of asterism that jumps out at you and it was just west of Vindemiatrix by about a binocular field. I used it and a nearby 7th magnitude star to form a triangle with the galaxy M60 to give me a starting point.

OK – that should work, but my next question was – is M60 something I can really expect to see with the 15X70 binoculars? I checked the SkySafari and it said the magnitude was 8.85 – hmmm, wonder how that compares with the familiar trio of galaxies in Leo I know I should see with these binoculars – M66, M65, and NGC 3628?

I quickly swung over to these three which have a wonderful “J” asterism to guide you – they’re like  cosmic fish caught on the hook of the “J.”  Again – here’s how SkySafari shows them on the Ipad.

The Leo Yriplet of Galaxies is well known and for me an indicator of how transparent the skies are - if I can see them easily in binoculars I know it's a good night for galaxy hunting. Well, if I can see two out of three - the two Messier objects being the easier ones.

I found my “J Hook” and the big fish – M66 – jumped right out at me. I can’t explain that. It’s always this way. That galaxy is just plain easy. M65 takes at least 30 second more for me to pick it up – and NGC3628 either eludes me entirely, or leaves me with a ghostly image that I’m not positive I’m seeing. And thus it was this morning. Now why this puzzles me is M66 is listed as magnitude 9.01, M65 magnitude 9.22 – just a tad dimmer – and NGC3628 as magnitude 9.17. In short, they’re all pretty much the same brightnness according to the numbers. But the numbers are just a rough guide because we’re not talking about a point source of light like a star. Instead we’re talking about light spread over an area – and frankly, even when you take this into account it doesn’t make sense to me that M66 should prove to appear so much brighter than the others – but it does to me.

All of which is interesting, but not the point – the point is M60, my target in Virgo, is listed as brighter than any of these at magnitude 8.85,  though it’s companion, M59, is fianter than any of them at magnitude 9.72. And using the numbers as a rough guide that’s exactly how it proved to be.  I found M60 without much trouble – and I was not sure whether I found M59 or not. But this gives me a foothold – an entry port into the Virgo cluster and I will use it on other nights in the coming months to explore much more. I have two sets of binoculars on order – new Celestron 20X80 and some used Zhummel 25X100. While neither are high quality, they should open that door with style once they arrive – though I’m not sure if my mount can handle the 100mm ones – we’ll see.

Meanwhile, I was so thrilled with how well M60 showed, I had to go cheking on some familiar targets and I quickly surveyed M51 ( the wonderful Whirlpool of a colliding pair of galaxies), M81 and M82 – just a terrific – and relatively bright pair in the Big Bear – and M101, a very faint, but large spiral that you can track down by following a trail of stars up and out  from Mizar.

And that lead me to the 20X60s Pentax. Their field is significantly narrower and with 60mm lenses rather than 70mm they shouldn’t deliver as much light – but the higher magnification and narrower field should increase contrast – and boy did it! The view of all the galaxies was significantly better in these binoculars – partly, I suspect, because the objective lenses are better, but mostly because the field is smaller, cutting down the background light and improving contrast.

So all in all, it was a great morning. Not quite Hubble Ultra thing – but because in this case the photons were really pinging my brain – not being captured by a piece of silocn and eventually represented by a pixel on a computer screen – I found this experience far better.

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Got out this morning from about 4 -5:30 with the idea of testing an Orion ST120 more – really trying to decide if I want to keep this one in the current mix of scopes, or if I really won’t use it that much because it doesn’t offer enough of an advantage.

What I don’t like is the sloppy images if you crank up the power. I’m spoiled by the SV80S with Lomo Triplet. But,the 120 adds about a magnitude to the 80 and that makes wide field sweeping easier. Ultimately, if I keep this it will be teamed with a C8 on a Universal Astronomics DoubleStar mount. So this morning I tried to look at it primarily from the standpoint of how it does at sweeping stuff up. But I couldn’t resist playing with some double stars – though seeing was poor – and stopping it down to do that. The way I stopped it was to simply put the lens cap on and remove the smaller cap in the middle that opens a hole I measure at 53mm. That’s small, but I was surprised at how bright the images stayed.

On Albireo, quite low in the east, there was a definite advantage to it being stopped down. I was using a 24mm Panoptic and the stars certainly got crisper and gave a more aesthetic view when stopped down to 53mm. The light loss was inconsequential. The Double-Double was a somewhat different case, though again there was an advantage in stopping down. It was still quite low, the seeing was a “2” on a scale of five and I simply couldn’t split it, though I came closer with the scope stopped down. In this case the light loss was more apparent primarily because of the 10.4 magnitude star that forms a triangle with the two pair. When I stopped the 120ST to 53mm that star pretty much vanished. So yes, I was losing two magnitudes by stopping down. But it wasn’t apparent in some other views.

I went to M81/82 and here the 2.7-degree fov comes in handy. It was easy to sweep up the pair. What surprised me is that I could hardly tell the difference between the view at 120mm and the view at 53mm. Maybe I was just remembering what this pair looks like in handheld binoculars. Here I was using 53mm, but at 25X and that not only enlarges the image, but provides better contrast. But I switched back and forth a couple of times before I was convinced that the 120mm did give a brighter view.

Switching to M51 the difference was more apparent, though again at 53mm I could clearly see both galaxies. Hmmm… how about M101? To sweep that up I first went to Mizar, planning to walk up the trail of stars that leads from it to M101 – but I stopped at Mizar long enough to try stopping down. Yep! At 120mm Mizar did not split. Of course I saw Alcor – but I mean Mizar itself wouldn’t split. But at 53mm it did – a victory for something like an F10/11 focal ratio created by stopping down! Then I trekked on up to M101 and here the difference in brightness paid off. I certainly could see M101 nicely with 120mm at F5. Stopped down to 53mm and it took a lot of imagination to tell there was a galaxy there. My hands were getting cold about this point, but I did pop over to Virgo galaxy cluster and without stopping down quickly picked up several galaxies.

So, I established to my way satisfaction that the 120ST would make a nice companion to the C8 on the double mount. BUT. . . when I got in and started playing with the numbers, indecision set in. If I put the SV80S next to the C8 I lose perhaps a magnitude – but I gain considerably in usable FOV. Using the Clearvue 30mm (82 degree AFOV) eyepiece on that scope will give me about 16X and a field of view that’s a bit over five degrees and with a 5mm exit pupil – about the limit my old eyes can use. The same eyepiece on the 120mm gives me a respectable 4 degree fov, but I doubt I would gain much in light grasp because the exit pupil moves up to 6mm and my eye won’t handle that. So the 24mm Panoptic is as much eyepiece as I can use with the 120mm.

So here’s the trade off I’m wrestling with:

Use the 120mm for its extra light grasp?

Or use the 80mm for its huge fov?

I will not part with the 80mm. I’m in love with the pristine images it delivers. Period. So if I keep the 120mm it means having both scopes and I really don’t know if the 120mm will offer enough of an advantage to make me want to switch from one scope to the other. (Yeah, I could mount the two on the DoubleStar, but neither can do what the 8-inch SCT can do – which is just about anything OK and with significantly more light grasp than either scope. (Anything,that is, except deliver a wide field of view.)

Any suggestions? Am I missing something in my calculations? Yes, I’ve considered binoculars – but they aren’t nearly as versatile as either of these scopes and I don’t know of any binoculars that can deliver anything like a five degree fov – well, a 70X15 will usually get you to around 4 degrees and the light is right around that gathered by an 80mm scope – but you’re still limited, even with ones that have interchangeable eyepieces. They simply don’t have the quality objectives to allow you to crank up the power.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m, not complaining. Much of the fun I have these days is considering this sort of thing, then buying and selling online to try out a new mix while meetingt he challenge of not denting the family budget – sales have to equal purchases, or something pretty close. :P

Oh – and later in the morning had a few folks take me up on the offer to view what Spaceweather.com calls “behemoth sunspot 1045” – it is huge – and 1047 – but I didn’t see 1046 – or I’m not sure I did. What I saw was two spots in the general vicinity of 1047. From the shot on Spaceweather it looked like 1046 was much farther south – or north – well, not that near 1047!

In white light – using the SV80S – I counted 13 individual spots all apparently part of the 1045 complex. In Hydrogen Alpha (using a PST with 13mm Nagler) I could see the 1045 complex for what it was – a huge , integrated disturbance. Paul, Lon, Karen, and my wife Bren all shared in the observing. Transparency was great. Seeing was acceptable. We could use up to about 50X to advantage. Viewed from about 10 am to noon. This is the first time I’ve had a scope set up for white light viewing right beside the PST – very interesting. I also was surprised to learn that the PST is apparently flipping both E/W and N/S like a finder or reflector. I had previously assumed it acted like a refractor/SCT with a diagonal mirror – not so.

There was also one huge prominence on the northeast edge, as well as half a dozen or so smaller ones. So the sun is getting interesting once more. How nice!

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