Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Thirty-Something Collection

On December 29th I had a chance to give my new telescope mount a spin. I decided to take images of the "thirty-something" Messier objects (M31 - M39, less M30 which is not visible).

Hope you enjoy the pictures as much as I had viewing and imaging them.

M31, The Andromeda Galaxy is the brightest galaxy visible from Earth and is an easy naked-eye and binocular target for star gazers. M31 has two close neighbors, M32 and M110, both of which are much smaller and will eventually be absorbed by M31. This Grand Galaxy lies 2,900 light years (ly) from Earth and is due to collide with our galaxy, The Milky Way in about 1-Billion years. M31 was referred to as the "little cloud" to famous Persian astronomer Al-Sufi who depicted the object in his Book of Fixed Stars in 905AD.

M32 (at center, M31 is lower-right) is a companion galaxy of M31 and will eventually be absorbed by its huge neighbor.

M33 the Triangulum Galaxy (also the Pinwheel) is a spiral galaxy that is a companion of its much larger neighbor, the Andromeda Galaxy. M33 is 3,000 ly from Earth and is moving toward our solar system at a rate of 240 km/s. Don't worry though, at that rate it will take a billion years or so to get here.

M34 is an open star cluster in the constellation Perseus. It consists of about 100 stars and lies about 1,400 ly away from Earth. The object is naked-eye visible under dark sky conditions and can be seen any evening in the Fall, Winter and early Spring.

M35 is an impressive open star cluster that lies in the constellation Gemini. The cluster consists of several hundred stars, many of which are brighter than magnitude 13. M35 covers an area larger than the Moon, is 24 lyacross and is about 2,800 ly from Earth.

M36 is one of three bright open clusters in the constellation Auriga. M37 and M38 are the other clusters. From our perspective M36 measures 14 ly across and is 4,100 ly from Earth.

M37 is the brightest of the three Auriga open clusters. It contains over 500 stars, 150 of which are brighter than magnitude 12. M37 is 4,400 ly from Earth and spans 24 ly across.

M38 is the last of three open clusters in Auriga. Lying very close (2.5 degrees north) of M36, this is 4,200 ly from Earth and 25 ly across. It contains a very large yellow star that would dwarf our meager Sun many-fold. Some astronomers have seen a 'cross' pattern in some of the brightest stars while others have seen the math symbol 'Pi'. I will leave you to decide what pattern, if any you see in M38.

M39 is an open cluster in the constellation Cygnus. The cluster is 800 ly away and a about 7 ly in diameter. M39 contains 30 proven member stars, though some star catalogs put the number closer to 50.

My next outing (when the rain stops & clouds part) will include a journey through the constellation Orion.

There are several sky treasures to discover in that group of stars.

I just need to wait for the weather to cooperate.

Clear Skies


Sunday, January 4, 2009

M42 - The Great Orion Nebula

Pictured is: The Great Orion Nebula.

This deep space object is the brightest and most recognizable Nebula visible from Earth.

Here are a few facts about The Great Orion Nebula, also known as Messier 42 (M42):

* The nebula is located in the constellation Orion, specifically the Belt of Orion.

* It is located 1,270 light years from Earth and measures 24 light years across.

* The nebula is the nearest active star-forming region to our solar system.

* Orion is one of the most easily recognized constellations in the winter night sky.

* The Great Orion nebula is visible to the naked eye.

M42 is one of my favorite astrophotography targets, because even an amateur like me can produce a robust picture.

The picture is RAW and was not manupulated in software except to enhance brightness. Equipment used to produce the image included:

Orion (Celestron) 9.25" Schmidt Cassegrain Telescope
Celestron f/6.3 Focal Reducer/Corrector
Orion Atlas GoTo Mount (tracking via SkyScan)
Nikon D80 DSLR (Unmodified)
Sensitivity: ISO-500
Exposure: 85 Seconds

Check back in a couple of days for my next post which will include a whole series of Messier objects that I photographed recently.

Clear Skies!