Category Archives: Galaxy

Galaxy Season (and why is the night dark?)

M86 and Galaxies

M86 and galaxies, 4/11-12/2021 (click image for technical info).

Spring is galaxy season. The Milky Way winds low around the horizon leaving the thin part of the galaxy overhead making the best time to look up and out through our galaxy to other galaxies millions of light years away. The larger galaxies in this image range from 15 million to 40 million light years away. Our galaxy is estimated to be between 150,000 to 200,000 light-years in diameter making these galaxies well beyond the stars and objects inside the neighborhood of our Milky Way.

The two brightest, fuzzy objects in the right center of the screen are the elliptical galaxies M86 and M84. The two galaxies in the upper left are known as “The Eyes.”

Speaking of eyes, in 1823 Wilhelm Olbers used his to look up at night and wondered why it is dark at all.

Heinrich Wilhelm Matthias Olbers.jpg
Nice eyes. Heinrich Wilhelm Matthias Olbers (lithography by Rudolf Suhrlandt) – Wikipedia.
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Fireworks galaxy (NGC 6946)



Fireworks galaxy, NGC 6946, in the constellations Cepheus and Cygnus. Torrey, 6/4/2016 (revised color)

It is new moon early June and the nights are dark but short. Summer solstice is only two weeks off and it does not get dark enough for observing until 10:40 PM. It will start getting light again in just five and half hours. Dark enough for observing is known as astronomical twilight and technically starts when the sun is 18 degrees below the horizon or almost two hours after sunset. Before astronomical twilight comes nautical twilight, defined by the old mariners as when the horizon at sea is still barely discernible. Continue reading

Black Eye Galaxy (M64)

Black Eye Galaxy (M64)

Black Eye Galaxy (M64)

I am able to get close enough to the heavens to take photos of deep sky objects from my driveway on the Colorado Plateau because I am standing on the shoulders of giants. This subtle jewel of a galaxy first picked up it’s nick name in February 1787 when William Herschel wrote in his observing notes, “A very remarkable object, mE. [much elongated], about 12′ long, 4′ or 5′ broad, contains one lucid spot like a star with a small black arch under it, so that it gives one the idea of what is called a black eye, arising from fighting.” Continue reading

The Whale and the Hockey Stick

“Star gazing is 50 percent vision and 50 percent imagination,” says my favorite astronomer, Chet Raymo. And maybe another 50 percent knowledge. The more you know, the more you can see. On a clear dark night in Salt Lake City, or Chicago, or Boston you can maybe see 50 stars, probably more like 25. The sky is washed out by light pollution and it is the sky most of us see if ever we look up. But we evolved under the stars of pollution free skies and on a clear dark night high on the Colorado Plateau there are still thousands of stars visible. Here the light of the Milky Way can be enough to cast a shadow. All the same, the stars we can see are a tiny fraction of the 100 billion in the galaxy. On nights like these the scene above seems to reach down to shake my sleeping natural soul awake and beg my mind to look up and see, to stand and see with imagination.

Whale and Hocky Stick (Crowbar) Galaxies, Torrey 3-9-2016

Whale and Hockey Stick galaxies, Torrey 3-9-2016

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M104, Sombrero Galaxy

M104, Sombrero Galaxy 4/20/2015.

M104, Sombrero Galaxy 4/20/2015.

I was inspired to shoot this object with about twice the usual exposure by Scott Rosen of Astronomers Do It In the You can see his award winning image of the same object here.  Scott primarily uses the same Celestron C8 Schmidt–Cassegrain reflector telescope that I use and he seems to be well known in the amateur astro-photography world. So much for excuses. He has the same general equipment but also obviously possesses some processing skills and software I don’t have. But one other factor I noticed is that he gets in a lot of exposure time, usually two to four times as much as I have been getting. On this shot I got about six hours and tried for nine but, as Joni Mitchell might say, clouds got in the way.

I realized another technology step to make shooting life a little easier. Rather than traipsing back out during the shoot to see if all the tech goodies are properly functioning I started using TeamViewer on an iPad to stay on the couch and check on the PC running the show out in the driveway. Better to prolong a nap until shooting is completed.

The Sombrero Galaxy is a spiral galaxy with an unusual central bulge and a prominent dark dust lane, thus the sombrero moniker, and is known to have a super massive black hole at its center. The light that reached my little camera sensor is about 28 million years old. M104 is located in the constellation Virgo.

Stellarium chart

My M104 Sombrero image is a six hour and three minute exposure made up of 121 three minute subs. I used 20 flat, dark and bias frames.
• Lens: Celestron Orange Tube C8 Schmidt-Cassegrain, 8″ diameter, focal length 80.0″ (2032mm), f/10 with f/6.3 reducer
• Mount: Losmandy G11
• Autoguider: Orion Starshoot
• Guide-scope: ShortTube 80mm f/5.0 refractor telescope
• Camera: Gary-Honis full-spectrum modified Canon T1i (500D)
• White Balance: Daylight
• Mode: Raw
• ISO: 1600
• Location: Torrey, UT
• Date: 4/18-20/2015
• Guiding software: BackyardEOS, PHD Guiding
• Calibration: Deep Sky Stacker
• Processing: Photoshop CS5, Picasa