And now part 7 of 10 of the Messier object photography project!
This group is dominated by star clusters (six globular, one open and one asterism or grouping of stars), but also contains two notable spiral galaxies – M74 in Pisces and M77 in Cetus, along with the “Little Dumbbell” planetary nebula, M76, in Perseus. Although the clusters are lesser-known than some of the lower M number clusters, they’re still well worth observing, especially M67 in Cancer (less well-known than the nearby Beehive), M68 in Corvus and M71 in Sagitta, a nice summertime object. M69, M70 and M75 are in Sagittarius, whereas M72 and M73 are in southern Aquarius. M73 is really just a group of four stars that happened to look a little fuzzy to Messier.
Messier Objects M67 to M77
Part 6 of 10 of the PMO Messier object photography project is now ready! (See previous posts from 2014 for more details and the first five composite photos.)
Eight of the 11 M objects in this group are galaxies in the Leo/Virgo/Coma Berenices/Canes Venatici region of the sky, visible this time of year (springtime). They include M64, the “Blackeye Galaxy,” and the well-known M65/M66 galaxy pair in Leo. However, the group also includes two globular clusters, M56 in Lyra and M62 in Ophiuchus (near Scorpius). Last but not least, it includes the famous and often-observed Ring Nebula, M57, also in Lyra, a constellation easily visible in the summertime. The Ring Nebula is the best-known example of a planetary nebula, which may resemble a pale green planet in some small telescopes, but which in reality is the energized gaseous remnant of a sun-like star near the end of its lifetime. The remaining core of the star is barely visible at the center of the nebula.
Messier Objects M56 to M66
Next door to the well-known winter constellation of Orion lies the Rosette Nebula, which, although more than twice the apparent size of the full Moon, is too faint to see with the unaided eye. Even with binoculars or a small telescope, you would likely see the associated star cluster (catalog number NGC 2244) and little of the nebula. However, with long-exposure astrophotography [see details below], it’s possible to capture the structure and beauty of this emission nebula. Excellent sky conditions with minimal local light pollution are also important! PMO volunteer Jim Wakefield of Bend, Oregon had both when he photographed the nebula on Feb. 17, 2015.
Rosette Nebula photographed by PMO volunteer Jim Wakefield.
Physical explanation, as given by Jim: This moment in time is the transition of a molecular cloud into a star nursery, and then eventually into an open star cluster. Notice that the central cluster of young energetic stars have cleared that area out with their stellar winds. These winds compress the outer regions of dust and gas to generate very high temperatures. Together with energetic ultraviolet light from the stars, this causes the gases, mostly hydrogen, to glow. That’s why it’s called an emission nebula. Now, with the aid of gravity, conditions are right for new star formation. Eventually all the gas and dust will either be consumed by these new stars, or blown out to open space. An open cluster of stars, without nebulosity, is what will remain.
Technical details: This image was captured through a Takahashi FS-60CB refractor scope that was piggybacked on a wedge-mounted and guided Meade LX200 10″ Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope (SCT). Usually the 10″ SCT is used to image smaller and fainter deep sky objects. However, since the Rosette nebula is a relatively large object in our sky, the wider field of view and better optics offered by the Takahashi refractor were used. Twelve exposures of 8 minutes each were stacked together to create this image.
Comet Lovejoy (C/2014 Q2), the fifth comet discovered by Australian amateur Terry Lovejoy, is currently making a nice show in the northern skies, even in binoculars at about magnitude 4 to 5, although you’ll need a good telescope and dark skies to see its faint tail. The comet made its closest approach to Earth on January 7 at 0.47 AU, but will continue to approach the Sun until about the end of January. Try to spot it this coming week (Jan. 18-24) in the early evening while there is no moonlight interference. For more information, photos and finder charts, see the Sky & Telescope online article.
Here’s a photo of the comet taken at PMO on Tuesday, Jan. 13, which shows the large coma well, but unfortunately doesn’t show much of the faint tail. (The horizontal field of view is about 30′, roughly the size of the Sun or Moon in the sky.)
Photo of Comet Lovejoy taken at PMO.
And, now, here’s a better composite photo (see below) of the comet taken at PMO on Tuesday, Jan. 20, which shows a lot of detail in the comet’s tail. (The total horizontal field of view is about 1.5 degrees.) Click on image to enlarge and see all of it.
Photo of Comet Lovejoy (with tail) taken at PMO.
Happy Holidays from the staff and volunteers at Pine Mountain Observatory. We hope to see you during next summer’s tour season.
Recommended holiday astronomy article:
“Colliding Galaxies Spark a Stunning Holiday Light Show”
And the bright light you might see low in the west-southwest shortly after sunset? – Probably just the planet Venus, now returning to the evening sky.
Here’s an image of the October 23, 2014 partial solar eclipse as seen from Bend, Oregon using the safe image projection method. In this case, the image was projected onto a white sheet of paper using a 60 mm spotting scope with a 20 power eyepiece, mounted on a tripod. The photo was taken at about 2:00 p.m. PDT, about 15 minutes after the start of the eclipse and about an hour before the maximum (3:00 p.m., by which time the sky was cloudier). Note that a large sunspot group is also visible. Of course you don’t have to wait for an eclipse to use this method to look for sunspots. Just be sure to always use the shadow of the scope for alignment, and never look into the scope!
October 23, 2014 partial solar eclipse.
This is a composite of two photo sequences taken of Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring at PMO on October 18, 2014, from about 7:25 to 7:55 p.m., 16 hours before the comet’s close encounter with Mars. (See the NASA JPL website page for this event.) The comet was very dim and low in the evening sky near the zodiac constellation of Scorpius as seen from Earth (it was dimly visible in PMO’s 24-inch telescope), but some of the spacecraft at Mars were expected to have a great view! At the time these photos were taken, Mars was still a little out of the picture to the upper right, and it would have been way too bright for these time exposures anyway.
Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring
Fortunately the weather for the total lunar eclipse turned out to be excellent, and here’s a composite of some photos taken with the “piggyback” setup on PMO’s 24-inch telescope. The four large photos in the composite were taken with an ATIK astro-camera attached to an 8-inch telescope, whereas the smaller photo (but showing the entire disk of the Moon) was taken with a Nikon Coolpix P90 digital camera.
October 8, 2014 total lunar eclipse
There will be two eclipses this October … a total lunar eclipse the night of October 7-8, and a partial solar eclipse the afternoon of October 23.
Lunar eclipses, which happen when the Moon moves through the Earth’s shadow, are completely safe to watch (even with telescopes or binoculars). During totality, the Moon will appear a dim red due to light refracted (bent) by the Earth’s atmosphere. Just before and after totality, the Moon may resemble Mars, with white “polar caps.” Totality also provides a dark sky during an otherwise bright full Moon, allowing the Milky Way to be seen from dark sky locations out of town. This time, the planet Uranus will also be very close (within about one Moon diameter) to the eclipsed Moon. However, you’ll need to be a night owl or early riser … totality lasts from 3:25 to 4:24 a.m. PDT (morning of Wednesday October 8), with partial phases lasting for a little over an hour both before and after totality. Look towards the southwest; at the start of totality, the Moon will still be nearly 40 deg up (not quite halfway up) in the sky.
Partial solar eclipses, when the Moon blocks part of the Sun, are NOT safe to watch without special filters or viewing equipment and methods, due to the brightness of the Sun. If you don’t have access to a safe filter or equipment (or don’t know how to use it), then you should only use indirect projection viewing methods. The Sun’s image can be projected by “pinhole” devices, or by small-aperture optical equipment such as binoculars or a spotting scope. Project onto a dull piece of paper using the Sun’s shadow for alignment, without ever looking through the scope. Adjust the distance of the paper (should be at least several inches from the eyepiece) and focus as required. The Thursday October 23 eclipse as viewed from Bend, Oregon lasts from 1:42 p.m. to 4:26 p.m. PDT. At mid-eclipse at about 3:07 p.m., the diameter of the Sun will be 60% covered by the Moon. This may be just enough to notice some darkening of the landscape; a camera would require about twice the usual exposure time (one f-stop difference). Times and coverage of the Sun will vary for other locations. The NASA eclipse website, http://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/eclipse.html, provides more information.
Currently no events are scheduled at PMO for these eclipses, although solar eclipse viewing may be possible. A solar eclipse viewing event on the UO campus is also in the works.
Part 5 of 10 of the PMO Messier object photography project is now ready! (See previous posts for more details.) This will be the last post of the year for this project; the project will be completed in 2015.
This group includes a good variety of M objects, beginning with the famous Pleiades star cluster (M45) primarily visible in the fall and winter skies. (Due to the large size of this cluster, it was photographed with a different camera having a large Field of View (FOV).) Star clusters M46, M47, M48 and M50 are also part of the winter Milky Way, with M46 also containing the planetary nebula NGC 2438. M49 is the first M object in the Virgo cluster of galaxies, best seen in the spring night sky. M51 is the famous Whirlpool Galaxy (actually two interacting galaxies), near the handle of the Big Dipper, and often shown during PMO tours. M52 is another open star cluster, near Cassiopeia, while M53 to M55 are globular star clusters. M55, near Sagittarius, is especially large and rich, but is often overlooked by northern observers because of its low position in the sky.
Messier Objects M45 to M55