A Night with Virgo

Sometimes things go right despite my best efforts. Friday night was such a night. My local centre of the RASC decided to have a club observer’s evening and like a lot of members I couldn’t resist the first clear night of spring so I packed my car with my gear in the morning and headed to SCO(St.. Croix Observatory) after work for an evening under the stars. When I arrived there was already a small crowd of 21 setting up. I to started out simple enough, I started early so I would have plenty of daylight while setting up my scope then things started to go wrong. With the first stars appearing I aligned on m wrong star and spent 30 minutes wondering why none of the alignment stars were near the center of the field. After discovering my error I realigned correctly and got down to the business of focusing. With a mask and live view focusing is generally an easy task, but with my first target being the galactic jet in M86 I needed a barlow and I soon realized that I didn’t have my 2 inch extension tube and couldn’t get focus. After borrowing one from a friend I managed to get the camera to come to proper focus and the imaging began.

First up was the galactic jet in M86. I had imaged this one before with some success, but my optics at the time left a little to be desired. My first attempt was several years ago with Meade optics (f/4 Schmidt Newtonian) that suffered from a bit of astigmatism and my processing tool kit was a little sparse, but I still managed to get some evidence of the jet.

It was a 300 second exposure that was the sum of ten, 30 second exposures that just barely proved sufficient to show the jet.

This latest attempt was the average of 15, two minute exposures with a longer focal length. The result was pretty noisy and it took a bit of processing in Images Plus. There was a lot of horizontal and vertical banding pattern noise that was easy to clean up using this method as a guide.

The jet is clearly visible at the top of the galaxy and even has a pale blue colour.

Next up was M86 and the heart of Markarian’s Chain. For this one I removed the barlow and imaged at prime focus. M86 is an elliptical galaxy moving toward the heart of the Virgo Cluster and forms the nose in the galactic smiley face below.

The shot is the average of 23, four minute subs for a total of 92 minutes. Processed on Images Plus with my usual masked stretched, split star technique to keep the stars small and bring the galaxies out from the background. When examining the full scale image there are over 30 galaxies in the field.

With my imaging done for the night I packed up and headed home and was treated to a spectacular Moon rise in the approaching cloud. Unfortunately with my camera packed in the trunk with my gear and being on a busy highway late at night I couldn’t stop to image it.



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