Nights on Mars Hill

Messier 63 The Sunflower Galaxy

M63,NGC5055,Sunflower Galaxy

Messier 63

Distance: 37 Million Light Years
Magnitude: 8.6
Size: 10 x 6 Arc Minutes
Galaxy Type: Spiral SA(rs)bc
Telescope: TPO 10” 2000mm FL
Camera: QSI 683
Mount: AP 900
Exposure: L 17×600 Bin 1, RGB 18×300 Bin2

Messier 63 is a flocculent spiral galaxy in the constellation Canes Venatici. A flocculent spiral galaxy is a galaxy with several spiral arms that radiate out from the bright galaxy core. These arms are tightly wound and appear fragmented in areas. Many observers say M63 resembles a flower hence the nickname The Sunflower Galaxy. M63 is a large galaxy at 130,000 light years across containing about 400 billion stars. There are many areas of star formation in the arms of M63. These appear as reddish blobs in images and many of these nebulous regions are of the star burst variety. At the core of this star factory is a massive black hole about 30 million times that of our sun.

There is a large but faint tidal stream around the perimeter of the galaxy possibly due to interaction with a dwarf galaxy around 5 billion years ago. This tidal stream is approximately 29,000 parsecs from the galaxy center at a width of approximately 3.3 parsecs. The tidal stream has been captured in earth based telescopes using visual filters and they appear as very faint, wispy clouds, elliptical in shape that follow the general shape of M63. One side of the tidal stream deviates from the elliptical shape and extends out away from the galaxy in a circular shape. The interacting galaxy has not been determined but this type of tidal stream has been observed in other galaxies and even our own Milky Way. Click here for a link that has a mouse over feature where you can see the tidal stream.

Messier 63 is a member of the M51 galaxy group. This is a small group of seven galaxies with M51A/B the most prominent members. The M51 group is a member of the much large Virgo super cluster.

This image was captured from a remote site with a limiting magnitude of 6.48 and a magnitude per arc second of 20.86. The sky was clear and humidity was about 30%. There was a light breeze at times in the 3-5mph range. This image was captured in a single sitting.

Messier 81

M81,NGC 3031,Bodes Nebula,Messier 81

Messier 81

Distance: 12 Million Light Years
Magnitude: 6.9
Size: 21 x 10 Arc Minutes
Galaxy Type: Spiral Sb
Telescope: RC 10” 2000mm FL
Camera: QSI 683
Mount: AP 1100
Exposure: L 15×600 Bin 1, RGB 12×300 Bin2

Messier 81 is a fairly bright galaxy in the constellation Ursa Major. It is a spiral galaxy with a lot of new star formation occurring everywhere from the core out to the faintest arms. The spiral arms get their bluish color from all of the young hot stars created as recently as a few million years ago. Some star formation was accelerated by interactions with neighboring galaxies M82 and NGC3077. The spiral arms also contain older stars formed from these past gravitational interactions about 600 million years ago. The arms also contain a lot of spiraling dust lanes starting from the outer arms and ending in the core area. The core area is much larger than our Milky Way core and is reddish in color due to the older age of the stars in this region. A large black hole about 70 solar masses in size is 15 times larger than the black hole of our galaxy. It is this large black hole that is creating the massive bulge at the core.

M81 is also a member of a galaxy group named the M81 Group. There are 34 galaxies in this group but one of the most prominent members is M82, the Cigar galaxy. M81 and M82 are often photographed together because they are each very interesting galaxies and can be captured with short focal length telescopes. What draws a lot of attention is M81 being a large, bright, colorful galaxy and M82 for being smaller but also bright with colorful starburst features. Additionally, they are very close to each other and as mentioned above they have interacted before with stunning results. The next prominent member is NGC 2403 which is a spiral galaxy and also quite large at 50,000 light years in diameter. The other group members are not so well known and are quite dim.

This image was captured from my house in a Bortle 6 region. The humidity was between 70-90% with a slight breeze. I managed to capture this in one night which was unusual for this time of year as the marine layer usually rolls in by 11 PM.

Messier 1 The Crab Nebula

Messier 1,M1,Crab Nebula,NGC 1952

Messier 1 SHO Version

Distance: 6,300 Light Years
Magnitude: 8.4
Size: 7 x 5 Arc-minutes
Age: Approx. 1000 Years
Telescope: TPO RC10
Camera: QSI 683
Mount: AP 1100
Exposures: SII 20×900 Bin 1, Ha 16×900 Bin 1, OIII 14×900 Bin 1

Messier 1, also known as the Crab Nebula, is a supernova remnant in the constellation Taurus. A supernova remnant is what is left after a star explodes. The first record of it was on July 4, 1054 by Chinese astronomers. At that time it appeared to the naked eye about 4x brighter than Venus plus was visible for the first 23 days and 653 nights. M1 is expanding in all directions at a very fast rate of 1,800 km/second. It is expanding fast enough to see visible changes in images captured a decade apart. The brightest areas of the Crab Nebula are filaments that consist of the outer layers of the former star.

The progenitor star, which is the star that caused the supernova, is thought to have been between 9-11 solar masses in size. Of course this is an estimate but typically stars less than 8 solar masses produce Type Ia supernova that later take shape as planetary nebula. Supernova from stars with over 12 solar masses do not have the same chemical composition as M1. Messier 1 is a Type II supernova which is the result of a massive star collapsing upon itself and then exploding. The progenitor star of M1 is now a pulsar that rotates at 30 times per second emitting massive amounts of energy in all electromagnetic spectrum. It is this massive amount of energy that is producing the fast rate of expansion.

This image was captured from my house in a Bortle 6 zone. The conditions were not ideal as the humidity was in the 80-90% range with some passing Cirrus clouds but there was no wind. I really wanted to get this target with a long focal length scope. It has been on my to do list for three years now and I want to try it again next year in LRGB from a dark site.

Messier 82 The Cigar Galaxy

M82,Cigar Nebula,Bodes Nebula,NGC3034

Messier 82 LRHaGB

Distance: 12 Million Light Years
Magnitude: 8.4
Size: 9 x 4 Arc Minutes
Galaxy Type: Irregular Starburst
Telescope: RC 10” 2000mm FL
Camera: QSI 683
Mount: AP 1100
Exposure: L 12×600 Bin 1, RGB 20×300 Bin2, Ha 14×1800 Bin 1

Messier 82 is an irregular galaxy in the constellation Ursa Major however it is also classified as a starburst galaxy. A starburst galaxy is a galaxy that has had a gravitational interaction with another galaxy and this interaction has spurred star formation at a rapid rate. In this case it interacted with Messier 81 several hundred million years ago but now the two galaxies are about 150,000 light years apart. The area above and below the core show these starburst areas and they appear as if they are exploding out and away from the galaxy core. These red filaments extend about 20,000 light years above and below the galaxy core. Their reddish color along with several dust lanes stand out from the rest of the bright galaxy. I tried to bring this out in my image by adding Hydrogen Alpha data to the red channel.

The Hubble Space Telescope has discovered close to 200 young globular clusters in this galaxy and this was probably the result of the interaction with M81 several hundred million years ago. These globular clusters are very young at 600 million years compared to the globular clusters in our galaxy which average 12 billion years. It is estimated that star formation in M82 has increased tenfold since its interaction with M81. Most of the star formation is occurring near the core of the galaxy in four clumps that are visible in visual wavelengths and they correspond with sources taken in X-ray, infrared, and radio wavelengths.

This image was captured from my home in a Bortle 6 zone using LRGB filters with some added Ha data using a 3nm Ha filter. The Ha data was blended with the red channel. The conditions were relatively good as humidity was lower than usual and the wind was calm.





NGC 2419

Caldwell 25, Intergalactic Wanderer

NGC 2419

Distance: 295,000 Light Years
Magnitude: 10.4
Size: 4.1 Arc Minutes
Cluster Type: Globular Class II
Telescope: 10” RC
Camera: QSI 683
Mount: AP 1100
Exposure: L 20×180 Bin 1, RGB 20×90 Bin2

NGC 2419 is a globular cluster in the constellation Lynx. It appears as a small globular cluster located at the outer edge of our galaxy. While it appears small and dim to us, it is actually very large and bright. At a distance of 295,000 light years its 4.1 arc minute size comes in at about 400 light years across. This is 3 times the size and 30 times the volume of the Omega Centauri cluster. This gives an estimated mass of 300-400 million solar masses, larger than a lot of dwarf galaxies. If NGC 2419 was a close as Omega Centauri it would appear as a magnitude 3 fuzz ball at 2 degrees in diameter.

NGC 2419 does contain variable stars and as of 2011 there were 101 confirmed. Variable stars come in many classifications; Pulsating stars, Eruptive stars, Eclipsing Binaries, and Rotating Variables with some of these classifications have several sub classifications also. Some of the variable stars found in NGC 2419 are RR Lyrae, long period variables, eclipsing binary variables, a Population II Cepheid, and a few others.

NGC 2419 also contains blue straggler stars. As of 2008 more than 230 blue straggler stars have been cataloged. Blue stragglers are older stars that are much hotter than the surrounding stars. This is unusual in globular clusters as all stars form at about the same time and therefore should be fairly uniform in age. One theory about blue straggler star formation says they are older stars that have merged together from gravitational interaction and as a result are hotter that the surrounding stars. Another possibility is the stripping of outer layers from the star from interaction with other stars.
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Messier 78

M78, NGC 2068, Messier 78

Messier 78

Distance: 1,600 Light Years
Magnitude: 8.3
Size: 8 x 6 Arc-minutes
Age: Approx. 1-3 Million Years
Telescope: Takahashi TOA-130
Camera: QSI 683
Mount: AP 1100
Exposures: L 18×600 Bin 1, RGB 15×300 Bin 2

Messier 78 is a reflection nebula in the constellation Orion. It is the larger of the two reflection nebula in my image. The smaller reflection nebula above M78 is NGC 2071. There is a lot of dust in this region that hides the young hot stars that are forming in this area. Both Messier 78 and NGC 2071 are the result of these young stars blasting away the surrounding gas and dust creating a vast void in the surrounding dust. Eventually these two reflection nebula will join as one larger nebula as the surrounding dust is ejected by new star formation. There are approximately 192 newly discovered stars and 45 T Tauri stars in Messier 78. T Tauri stars are proto stars that have not started the fusion process.

There are 21 Herbig-Haro objects in this region and several are seen in my image. The HH objects are narrow jets of ejected gas from newly formed stars that collide with surrounding gas and dust. They appear as a reddish jet set against the dark dusty background. There is also an unusual nebula that has appeared in recent photographs that was not present before. McNeil’s Nebula was recently discovered and appears and disappears at times. It is visible in my image as a fan shaped object below M78 in the top portion of the dust cloud just to the right of two side by side stars.

This image was captured at a fairly dark site in the high desert but there was a constant wind of 10mph with gusts up to 25mph. I was there for two nights but only used about one nights worth of images. There were a lot of images with bloated and/or slightly elongated stars that I had to toss.

NGC 7129

NGC 7129,IC 5132,IC 5133,LDN 1183

NGC 7129

Distance: 3,300 Light Years
Magnitude: 11.5
Size: 7×7 Arc-minutes
Age: Approx. 1 million years
Telescope: Takahashi TOA-130
Camera: QSI 683
Mount: AP 1100
Exposures: L 19×600 Bin 1, RGB 21×300 Bin 2

NGC 7129 is a reflection nebula in the constellation Cepheus. The entire nebula is set amongst a large dusty region of space with active star formation. NGC 7129 also contains several Herbig-Haro objects and molecular outflows. These HH objects are barely visible in my image with one of them seen at the top left of the reflection nebula and three more at the lower right. The largest of the three is the crescent shaped object named Herbig-Haro 103. The star cluster in the center of the image is responsible for illuminating the surrounding dust that comprises the reflection nebula. Several stars in this cluster have circumstellar disks orbiting them. These are planets in the making! IC 5132 and IC 5133 are the smaller bright nebula just above NGC 7129. LDN 1183 is the dusty area surrounding the reflection nebula. Open star cluster NGC 7142 is partially seen at the bottom left.

I decided to try this object from my home in a Bortle 6 zone. I really didn’t know what to expect since this was a reflection nebula set inside of a dark dusty nebula. I was pleasantly surprised at the results even though the dark areas don’t really “pop” from the black sky as they would from a dark site.

IC 342

IC 342,Caldwell 5

IC 342 LRHaGB Version

Distance: 11 Million Light Years
Magnitude: 9.1
Size: 21 x 20 Arc-minutes
Age: Approx. Several Billion Years
Telescope: Takahashi TOA-130
Camera: QSI 683
Mount: AP 1100
Exposures: L 25×600 Bin 1, RGB 20×300 Bin 2, Ha 16×900 Bin 1

IC 342 is a spiral galaxy in the constellation Camelopardalis. It is a member of the neighboring IC 342/Maffei galaxy group. While it is the largest galaxy in its group, it is about half the size of our Milky Way galaxy. IC 342 is located about 10 degrees above our galactic plane and therefore we must observe it looking through some dense regions of our own Milky Way galaxy. Our galactic dust and gas obscures IC 342 making it appear slightly reddish brown and this dust also dims the galaxy by 2.4 magnitudes. All of the stars in my image are foreground stars and are part of the dense star field of our Milky Way galaxy. I think this provides a great field of view at the right focal length.

IC 342 is an SAB(rs)cd galaxy. The SAB means it is a spiral galaxy with a slight bar. The (rs) means that there is a slight ring around the core and the cd describes how tightly wound the arms are. The galaxy is rotating counter-clockwise based on the shape of the arms. The majority of the arms contain gas and dust regions which are full of very hot and very young stars. The arms also contain several HII regions which are star forming regions and can be seen as reddish blobs in my picture. The core of IC 342 is also a region of high star formation and is a popular target for research.


This image was captured from my home in a Bortle 6 zone.

NGC 896

NGC 896, IC1795, IC 1805

NGC 896 LRGB Version

Distance: 7,500 Light Years
Magnitude: 10
Size: 27 x 13 Arc-minutes
Age: Approx. 3-5 Million Years
Telescope: Takahashi TOA-130
Camera: QSI 683
Mount: AP 1100
Exposures: L 25×600 Bin 1, RGB 20×300 Bin 2

NGC 896 is an emission nebula in the constellation Cassiopeia. It is also cataloged as IC 1795. This nebula is commonly associated with IC 1805, the Heart Nebula, but was discovered before. It appears as a bright clot of nebulosity in an eyepiece but with a camera the details quickly appear. The nebula is surrounded by several dust lanes that conceal parts of the nebula and part of the star forming regions. A study from 2011 using Spitzer and Chandra data mentions 269 new cluster members in NGC896. This discovery found these new stars hidden behind the dusty areas of this region.

Narrowband Exposures: SII 19×900, Ha 30×900, OIII 18×900

SHO Version:

NGC 896,IC 1795,IC 1805

NGC 896 SHO Version

HOO Version:

NGC 896,IC 1795,IC 1805

NGC 896 HOO Version

IC 1848 Closeup


IC1848 SHO Version

Distance: 6,500 Light Years
Magnitude: 6.5
Size: 30 x 24 Arc-minutes FOV
Age: Approx. 1 Million Years
Telescope: Takahashi TOA-130
Camera: QSI 683
Mount: AP 1100
Exposures: SII 20×900, Ha 27×900, OIII 25×900

IC 1848 is an emission nebula in the constellation Cassiopeia and is located in the Perseus arm of our galaxy. The common name is the Soul Nebula. There are several areas of dense and dark dusty areas in my image. These areas are shaped by the ultraviolet radiation from nearby star clusters. Eventually the dark structures will be blown away either by new star formation in the pillars or nearby ultraviolet radiation from the nearby clusters. For now they make a stunning image with a backdrop of colorful HII gas.

HOO Version:


IC 1848 HOO Version

HaRGB Version:


IC 1848 HaRGB Version