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M51 - April 2006


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M51 report for 3rd and 4th April 2006.

I had been searching for this elusive wisp for several nights as a pretty thing to show my gorgeous chick to keep her OK with me being out in the dark. Arthur's posting his version in the raw on his website prodded me along some more to find this beastie.

First job with the HEQ5 was the polar align and calibrate. I was using the f5 Newt so this went well. With a 25mm + focal reducer and a 10mm in my coat pocket the alignment was straight forward.

Next job was the easy bit. Entered M51 and pressed enter, it told me where it was in RA and Dec. as it's supposed to. Enter again got the "view object?" response so I pressed the "well Duh!" button and off it went. M51 is located near the big dipper / Ursa major / Great Bear that most of us recognise. From the rectangle shape go along the "handle" to the last star and turn left. About half the distance between the last two stars from the end star is the galaxy M51.

Final job was to look at it. At first there was nothing there, then slowly I could make out a wispy thing. After ten minutes nothing more than a wisp was visible. This being due to light pollution at the garden site, I assume, and not getting the night vision thing sorted because of that. It could also have been due to the Moon being about though I don't have the experience to know what difference it makes.

After looking at it, or trying to, I decided to try snapping it with the DSLR. On the first night this was not very successful as I had the focus wrong. I was able to actually verify that its still there, which was a thrill in itself, and to snap something so faint was a marvelous feeling. The excitement of looking at a blur was a really good feeling as I checked out the preview screen on the camera. What a buzz. So I took some more frames to stack later using the remote button to reduce the wobble of the scope. I had the camera set to do noise reduction but switched the camera off as soon as the shutter closed. I have learnt that this helps a lot, as the algorithm for removing odd dots on the image gets rid of the dots that I want.

I went on to snap M101 as it's next door as it were and seeing as the goto seemed to be doing as it was told, it seemed silly not to.

The second night was imageing imageing imageing, as our leader might say. Same setup except that, as I knew what I wanted to shoot, I put the HEQ in a corner where the naughty streetlights weren't shining on me directly, but the view was restricted. Even so I managed to see enough stars to get an alignment and started with the session. Pointing at the moon to get good focus, I had less movement of the scope than if I had moved from Saturn and this seemed to help with the change in focus as I moved the scope. The accufocus doodah is really very good for the focussing and it did a good job.

Got some snaps of the moon and then on to the quarry. M51 bang in the sights after goto - getting to like this now I know it can work if you point it at the right stars to calibrate it - changed down to iso800 as the first few were getting the dreaded red glow at iso600. I kept the shutter at 30 seconds - the longest setting before bulb - and snapped half a dozen at M51. Then again onto M101 for another six frames.

Getting near to bedtime at this stage (some of us have got jobs you know) and I wanted to see what I had bagged so I packed up at 10:30 and went in for a warm and a beer or two or three.

Wonderful night out doing nothing worthwhile, but it beats the heck out of watching the telly.

Captain Chaos

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An excellent report CC! I've yet to bag M51, but I look forward to it hitting my D70's CCD sometime soon! I love to hear peoples reports that are "down to earth" as im a complete beginner at imaging and it helps me remember that others are doing the exact same thing as me and it's not just me being dim hehe. Not that im saying your dim!!

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Well Daz, as soon as we can move the moon out of the way and me to a dark site we'll be sorted. I have pondered a house move, but it's a bit extreme at the moment. Work, kids at school, you know the kind of things that tie us to where we are. I don't think (yet) that I should up sticks and go somewhere dark. When the new vehicle tracking satellites are up and running, I'm outa here. Brazil, Cote D'Ivoire, Turkey, Ghana? All on the list of possibles, just need to find the dosh.

Captain Chaos

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