Saturday, April 14, 2012

Last chance at Orion

[Thursday, April 12]
Tonight was my last opportunity to shoot Orion until winter.  It's on the heels of the sun in the southwestern sky in the early evening and is completely out of sight before midnight this time of year.
Arguably, the most recognizable northern hemispheric constellation holds one of the most active star forming regions nearby in our own the Milky Way.  The Orion Nebula (aka: Great Nebula in Orion, M42, NGC 1976) is actually the middle "star" in Orion's scabbard.  If you grab some binoculars and look at Orion's scabbard, the three closer stars lined up almost perpendicularly below the three wider belt stars, you'll see that those three little stars are actually multiple stars in three little open clusters. If you look long enough at (and around; averted vision really makes it pop) the middle group you will see wispy clouds shaped like wings wrapping around the little stars in the center.  Those little stars in the center are a cluster of very young stars called the Trapezium.  The wispy clouds are gas an dust in the process of condensing into stars.  Read an interesting recent post by Phil Plait, the Bad Astronomer on the Orion Nebula.

Here she is, this may just be my favorite photo I have ever taken.  I've been trying to shoot Orion for a long time but without a tracking mount it was extremely frustrating. With my camera piggyback mounted on a Meade RCX 400 it's a breeze. Thanks to the Observatory at Bisbee Hill guys for use of the equipment.
15 frames via DeepSkyStacker @ 81mm 40sec f6 ISO1000 

I also pointed the scope at a couple prominent galaxies near the tail of Ursa Major or the handle of the Big Dipper and snapped away.  This is the Whirlpool Galaxy (aka: M51a, NGC 5194) located just under the last star of the dipper's handle (picture the dipper right side up, like a spoon lying on a table).  As you can see, it appears to be a large spiral devouring a smaller galaxy (M51b or NGC 5195) but the smaller galaxy is actually passing behind the Whirlpool, merely gravitationally tugging on it.  This galactic encounter sparks massive star formation in the Whirlpool Galaxy, the pinkish/purplish hues are nebulous regions.

11 frames via DeepSkyStacker @ 81mm 2min f6 ISO2000

This is the gorgeous spiral galaxy M101 (NGC 5457) also near the end of the Big Dipper's handle.  Find it by looking at the last two handle stars and make an equilateral triangle pointing up (again, think of the dipper as horizontal), at the top of the triangle you'll find M101. There's three other galaxies visible in this image as well.  At 10 o'clock from M101 is NGC 5477 and straight to the left edge of the frame from there is a tiny edge-on galaxy NGC 9071.  The Fuzzy blob at the bottom is NGC 5474.
12 frames via DeepSkyStacker @ 81mm 2min f6 ISO2000

Another Ursa Major treat, Comet Garrad was visible (it's the green thingy), it was fantastic night!

Friday night was a bit hazy and observing was kind of a flop but this was our beautiful horizon.  Nice lineup of Canis Major, Orion, Taurus, Venus, Pleiades, and Perseus' leg.