In the early hours of Sunday 29th March, the clocks went forward. A week before that Spring finally arrived to end what had been a very wet winter, which had caused lots of flooding here in the UK.
Suddenly, the sun was out, the birds were singing and daffodils were sprouting up everywhere – never had it been so obvious that a season had changed. But for us astrophotographers, the start of Spring means something very different indeed. Spring is the start of Galaxy season, and in the UK we were lucky to have 4 clear nights in a row!
I thought I would take this opportunity to image 2 targets I had never had the pleasure of imaging before, M81 & M82 or more commonly known as the Cigar and Bode’s Galaxies. You can checkout my video below which explains the process of how I captured these targets from my back garden using modest deep sky imaging equipment.
What this video doesn’t detail (because I didn’t record anything that night), was the struggle and frustration I had of trying to capture these galaxies.
Completely down to user error I aligned my HEQ5 Pro mount to the wrong star during the alignment process, throwing my mount off by a few degrees and therefore meaning I was unable to get anything within my field of view when I slewed the mount to a particular target. Frustrating. Even more frustrating that it took a couple of hours to realise my mistake and by that time the night was lost.
The important lesson here is to not give up. I went back out the next night, determined that I would get it right and added the pressure on myself by deciding to try and capture my imaging session on camera. I figured sharing my failure is equally as important as the success and final image.
Well naturally everything worked perfectly that night and I captured an image I’m really proud of! Astrophotography is a complex hobby and the learning curve is very steep, I still haven’t dived into the world of auto-guiding, plate solving, filters, dedicated astronomy cameras and more. I am taking this journey one step at a time, which is what I encourage all beginners to do. It’s okay to fail, we all do it.
The important thing is to learn from it not and not make the same mistake again. But you can certainly do yourself a favour by not buying all the expensive gear right away and just getting familiar with the night sky. I see too many people walking away from astrophotography because they took too much on at once and got too frustrated. Well, that and the weather!
M81 and M82 Bode’s and Cigar Galaxies
A little information about these two wonderful galaxies. Both these galaxies sit within the constellation Ursa Major (or Big Dipper), and are an astonishing 12-million light years away from Earth! Both Bode’s Galaxy and Cigar Galaxy, M81 & M82 respectively, were discovered in 1774 by German astronomer Johann Elert Bode.
A man who is perhaps most famous for determining the orbit or Uranus and suggesting the planet’s name, which still gets a laugh nearly 250 years later! M81 is 90,000 light years in diameter, making it approximately half the size of our own Milky Way galaxy. M82 is a starburst galaxy, meaning it is undergoing a high rate of star formations and is the closest starburst galaxy to Earth.
Our view of M82 is virtually edge on, meaning from our perspective we are almost viewing it from the side, hence why it’s tricky to capture any detail of spiral arms.
To capture these two incredible galaxies, I used my Sky-Watcher Evostar 72ED DS-Pro and Sky-Watcher HEQ5 Pro mount. I also used my trusty modified DSLR (Canon 650D) to take 90 x 2-minute exposures at ISO800. I used Flats and Bias for calibration frames and stacked them in DeepSkyStacker.
I then processed my final stacked image in photoshop to produce the two images you see below. Are these images perfect? No. But with minimal equipment it is amazing what you can achieve. I hope this post inspires others with similar equipment, or beginners just starting out that with a little patience and know-how you can achieve some great results.