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  • Jeff Kuderna

Galaxy Season Part 1

Updated: Feb 23, 2020

With the snow finally starting to melt, and the clouds clearing out before April showers start in earnest, Galaxy Season is upon us. There are numerous galaxies ideally positioned in the night sky just waiting to be captured. Whether attempting to image the jewels of the Markarian Chain or the arms of the Bode spiral galaxy, you will find plenty of interesting subjects to challenge both your acquisition and pre / post processing skills.

Markarian Chain
M81 Bode Galaxy

Just to drive this point home further, below is a depiction of the sheer number of galaxies present this time of year. The numbers on the left (y - axis) denote declination, and the dates on the (x-axis) represent the time of year when those galaxies and constellations are directly overhead. As shown by the red dots, the greatest concentration of galaxies are located over-head, or visible for the longest amount of time per night, around April 1. The little dipper pictured at the top of the graphic is stretched out as this is an orthographic map.

galaxy season map

In this Part 1 of Galaxy Season, I decided to target Messier 51 (M51), the Whirlpool Galaxy. Discovered in 1773 by Charles Messier, M51 is 31 million light years away from Earth and located in the Canes Venatici constellation. As shown in the Hubble image below, the Whirlpool Galaxy seems to be having some of it's dust lanes pulled away by the companion galaxy, NGC5195. Although passing behind it, NGC5195 displays its gravitational prowess over hundreds of millenia, and possibly hints at a disconcerting future for our own Milky Way Galaxy as the current trajectory will pass by the Andromeda Galaxy in a similar fashion.

The beautiful colors that comprise the Whirlpool Galaxy include infrared, hot Hydrogen gas that serve as star forming nurseries, the brilliant blues of new born stars, and yellows of the larger, more mature stars. With an apparent magnitude of 8.4, this large "grand-design" spiral galaxy is a favorite of amateur astronomers.

Below is an image captured from my red zone backyard in New Jersey. I tested out the Astronomik CLS (City Light Suppression) Clip In filter on my modified Canon t3i for the first time. Captured through the Explore Scientific 127mm APO triplet refractor and processed entirely in PixInsight, I think the results of this set up speak for themselves. Although not the ideal 2 hours of acquisition time I was hoping for (only integrated 48 minutes worth), the arms of the Whirlpool Galaxy are easily distinguishable. Being that Galaxy Season continues into May, I plan to supplement this data with another night or two of additional captures, and maybe even include some Hydrogen Alpha narrowband signal to enhance the details.

M51 - Whirpool Galaxy

Explore Scientific 127mm ED APO triplet; modified Canon t3i; Astronomik CLS Clip In Filter; ISO800; 48 minutes Integrated; PixInsight

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