Discoveries during lockdown

By Steve Morrall

M51 as seen in camera live view, by Steve Morrall
M51 as seen in camera live view, by Steve Morrall

In early spring when we were effectively trapped in our own gardens, our interest in the skies I’m sure played an important role keeping us occupied. My postcode is rated by the clear outside forecast website as a bortle 6, although I think now it’s more like 7. On a good night I can see M81 and M82 galaxies but nothing like the Virgo galaxies due to the light pollution. So I thought about just playing about with the camera.
I have a canon 200d dslr, very light with a fold out and rotatable rear viewfinder. I attach it to a Skywatcher ed80 refractor with a t piece. The mount is a basic Skywatcher a/z go to. If you cannot see what you are trying to photograph the goto facility is pretty much essential.

Once the basic setup is done using the usual eyepiece, it only takes a few minutes, the camera can then be attached and focused by targeting any bright object, for example Vega. I just fold out the viewfinder live view and use that. The magnification we have now is about x12 so fainter objects will not be visible but the goto facility will sort that, so let’s target M51 the whirlpool galaxy. With the camera settings at 30 seconds exposure, self timer set and iso set at 1600, let’s see. Recalling the digital image and expanding it like a phone, essentially cropping it, we can see not only two galaxies but enough detail to understand why it’s called the whirlpool galaxy. Never have I seen that before, and this is in a light polluted area. It’s not a quality photograph, we are using the camera as an extension of the eyepiece, the same idea as the electronic telescopes are now doing. You can bluetooth the image to your phone or pad if you wish to continue with processing.

Let’s try the massive elliptical galaxy M87, 53 million light years away, where the black hole was imaged. I can never see that through the telescope, but the camera can, very much the faint fuzzy but it’s clearly there. I have never, ever seen Markarian’s chain only in photographs. It’s a bit ambitious but lets try. Part of the chain is M86, so by entering that into the goto and crossing fingers, let’s see what we have. Upon expanding the image the galaxies in the chain come to life, very faint but the pattern is clear, yes eight galaxies. Carrying on, next the Leo triplet, and back to M82, showing some mottled detail and actually some colour.

The mount, because it moves in small zig/zag movements will always show some star trailing, so this is not the way to great photos, we are finding deep sky items that would not normally be seen with eyes alone through the telescope. Alternatively of course, pack your stuff and travel to a real dark site, unfortunately not an option in galaxy season 2020.

The attached image shows M51 the whirlpool galaxy as it appeared in the live view.