M63, The Sunflower Galaxy

M63, The Sunflower Galaxy


Right about this time of year, a spectacular menagerie of galaxies crawls from the Eastern sky. Pretty much every kind of galaxy you could imagine – spirals, barred, ellipticals, starburst, and irregular curiosities. From Leo to Virgo and Coma Berenices, all the way over the Ursa Major, millions of galaxies pass overhead. Some are far away and clumped together, while others are a bit closer, larger, and of course magnificient to image. I went after a few of the larger ones with aperture over the past two weeks using all three of my scopes — and here’s what I came up with!

First, M63, the Sunflower Galaxy. Pretty as it is, the spiral arms are very diffuse and difficult to pick up. This image is comprised of 13x 300s light frames using the Televue NP101is refractor. Data gathered Feb 2, 2011.

Next up, M106 and edge-on spiral, NGC 4217 as well as a host of other exciting galactic friends. To me, M106 almost looks like the blade from a food processor, except maybe a few notches more beautiful. The full frame field from the NP101is is actually quite stunning with piles of little galaxies all over the place.

M106

M106

I bumped the exposure time from up to a solid 10 minutes per exposure – and stacked up 13 of these for over 2 hours of total exposure time. Processing in nebulosity; capture with the Orion Starshoot Pro v2 and the Skyglow Imaging Filter.

M106 is about 25 million light years away — about 300x closer than the Twin Quasar, QSO 0957+561! Careful examination of the image here will show the brighter blue sections at the end of the bar in this galaxy which are purported to be regions of very hot stars which burn out quickly. M106 is classified as a Seyfert galaxy, where matter is believed to be falling into a large central black hole. This causes extreme brightness in certain elements when viewed with a spectrograph.

NGC 4217

NGC 4217

Next up is distorted galaxy NGC 3718. There is active debate about whether this galaxy is lenticular or a spiral; I’ll just call it spiricular. Also in the field is a more pronounced NGC 3729 and a clump of awkward looking galaxies to the lower right of the image. I couldn’t identify them in Stellarium or Cartes du Ciel; if you know what they are, please hollar!

This image was taken with the CPC 1100 using the HD Pro Wedge and the f/6.3 focal reducer. I also scaled the image down 50%; it was really quite big beforehand! I used 9x 600s subs here for a total of 1.5 hours. However, this also was the first time I was able to successfully get the Orion Off-Axis-Guider functioning properly. Due to backfocus issues, I was forced to remove the crayford style GSO focuser. I don’t think I’d get quite as round stars – especially for a ten minute sub with the separate guidescope. Luckily this field had several bright enough stars to chose for guiding.

NGC 3718

NGC 3718

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