Space, the final… oh you know the rest!

My readers may not be aware of the fact that I’m a keen amateur astronomer, I say keen, I live in England so clear night skies are a rare treat.

I’ve always marvelled the amazing images that are captured with a telescope and a camera. So I decided to have a bash at astro-imaging. My efforts range from down right awful to sub par; but they’re my images so I’m quite pleased with them.

I’ve imaged the moon through its various phases, I’ve photographed the stars and had a bash at DSOs, Deep Sky Objects, as I mentioned earlier my success is below average. There are some chanmakges I need to make to improve the quality of my images. I’m currently using a 127mm aperture Maksutov Cassegrain telescope with a 1500mm focal length, google it :D. This type of scope is not ideal for astro-photograpy. What I need is a Newtonian reflector of at least 150mm aperture.

Whilst the MAK, top image, isn’t ideal, the Newtonian has much more light gathering ability. So that’s one thing I need. It’s not too bad, a Newtonian is a relatively low priced scope. The biggest set back is my knowledge, my understanding of the techniques applied for astro imaging is somewhat lacking.newt

However, I have the good fortune to have a friend that has a great deal of experience with imaging the night sky, even better that he is very happy to share his wealth of knowledge. So with the proper kit and a few lessons, I should get the images I aspire to. Lessons have started and there have been results.

The first image is Messier 31, The Andromeda Galaxy. WARNING: educational info ahead! M31 is a spiral galaxy some 2.5 million light years from earth. With approximately 350 billion stars it is much larger than the Milky Way. M31 has a magnitude 0f 3.5 (ish). It is visible to the naked eye but very clear, very dark skies are needed. What can actually be seen is the bright core or centre of the galaxy. If it were just a magnitude brighter it would appear to be larger than the full moon. One more interesting fact, in about 4 billion year the Andromeda galaxy and the Milky Way will collide.

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This image wasn’t taken by me, oh how I wish. However I really hope that by the time M31 is in the best position for imaging I will have the new kit.

My next image is of Messier 51, the Whirlpool galaxy. It’s a fine example of a spiral galaxy, and a companion galaxy can just be seen above the main object. M51 is 24 million light years away and at magnitude 8.4 a reasonable sized scope is needed. The image isn’t great because there was some high altitude cloud.

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This image is taken by me, it’s a one minute exposure at ISO 1600.

My third image is a favourite target for astronomers, Messier 13; The great cluster in Hercules. M13 is a globular cluster that contains around 300, 000 stars. It s about 145 light years in diameter, it is 25,100 light-years away from Earth.

The Arecibo message of 1974, which contained encoded information about the human race, DNA, atomic numbers, Earth’s position and other information, was beamed from the Arecibo Observatory radio telescope towards M13 as an experiment in contacting potential extraterrestrial civilizations in the cluster. While the cluster will move through space during the transit time, the proper motion is small enough that the cluster will only move 24 light years, only a fraction of the diameter of the cluster. Thus, the message will still arrive near the center of the cluster.

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The top image is made from 37 images of 20 second exposures which have been stacked using Deep sky stacker, other than that there has been no other processing. The second image is a single 20 second exposure at ISO 1600  which has been darkened.

Image 3 is an unprocessed 20 second exposure ISO 1600.

If you look to the left of the cluster in images 2 & 3, at about the 7 o’clock position you can just make out a very faint object. This is NGC 6207, a spiral galaxy that is approximately 30 million light years away. NGC 6207 has a magnitude of 11.7.

I hope you enjoy the images, and that you weren’t too put off by the info blurb.