I had some great opportunities over the summer to work with the lead astronomer of the Battle Point Astronomical Association in order to help better align the Ritchie telescope (it turns out that working on very large and custom mounts is a lot more challenging than backyard commodity setups). After some prying and hammering and replacing some worn out parts, we were able to get the RA axis almost perfectly aligned, though we still have some noticeable drift in the DEC axis.
A stretch of gravitationally interacting galaxies forming part of the Virgo cluster, Markarian’s Chain includes M86 (the large elliptical galaxy in the center-right of the shot, the central galaxy of the Virgo cluster) and further to the left in the shot the galaxy pair NGC 4453 & NGC 4438, known as the ‘Eyes Galaxies’ for easily apparent reasons. Unfortunately not a part of the sky that I can shoot from my own yard.
While I wait for my camera to be replaced, it’s back to my trusty Canon DSLR. At just over 12 hours of data captured (just under 11 hours actually used in integration) taken over April 6th and 12th, I was able to put together a view of M106 and some of the surrounding galaxies, capturing the wispier halo that envelopes the brighter and more active core of the galaxy. This was the first time I’ve used data from multiple nights for a single shot, and I’ll certainly be making some improvements in the future, mainly around how to control for field rotation and some tweaks for larger batch integration in PixInsight.
After nearly two months of waiting for my new camera to finally arrive (QHY268C), I was able to get 4 hours of observing on a night of middling seeing and some challenging light pollution issues before it started having hardware issues requiring shipping it back for replacement. I love the arrangement of M81 and M82 next to each other in the sky, with one straight-on and the other seen from the edge, though it was a challenge to get this shot to turn out at all with the overall low-quality data I gathered.
With the improvement I saw in my revisting of M51 I was pretty eager to try M101 again as well. Not the least because it is in an ideal position in the sky for my yard setup (with trees, I have an band from around 70° to 30° declination that I can track throughout the night with RA 14H currently clearing obstructions right about 10PM, so anything in Ursa Major is an ideal target for me in March).
Despite pessimistic weather models, this past Thursday turned out to be the first clear night I’ve had for observing since last September. While I was late getting started (due to said pessimistic models) and also my first time trying to setup in the yard of our new house, it turned out to be a pretty ideal night. Rather chilly (better for my uncooled 800D if not so great for me), and clear of clouds until past 4AM.
I’d been eager for awhile to turn my sights towards M31, and as my last target of the summer, I was able to get 5 and a half hours worth of capture time of it. I will definitely be revisiting it soon though, as I had made some inadvertant adjustments to my backspacing that caused some pretty major issues with my field-flattener that I couldn’t crop out since I barely had a large enough sensor to capture the whole galaxy to begin with.
Tried my luck at another galaxy target, this time the Whirlpool galaxy. While I wasn’t able to get much more integration time (only 80 minutes), the shot turned out a little cleaner thanks to better flats and darks. Still wound up with some noise that I wasn’t able to eliminate in processing, likely due to alignment errors. Whirlpool Galaxy - Full Size
After quite a few failed nights working out all the issues in my setup, this was my first successful deep-sky shot. M101, the Pinwheel Galaxy. Plenty still went wrong, I was only able to get 75 minutes worth of exposures before dew and tracking issues shut me down for the night and my flats didn’t turn out (leaving me to crop out a large dust mote), but I was still happy to see the first glimpse of another galaxy taken through my telescope.