M96 and Friends

It has been a while since I was able to get out to my favorite dark sky site, the St. Croix Observatory. SCO is the club observatory of the Halifax Centre of the RASC and is a fantastic facility under dark (better than 21 mag/arc-second) skies. Between work schedule, winter weather and the Moon I haven’t been to SCO since November of 2017.

After driving out to the observatory, a pleasant 30 minute drive north of the city, I started to set up my gear. As this was the first clear night with no Moon to speak of in a while there were several other club members there as well, all eager to start in on their own targets. After setting up, sky and polar aligning I started in on centering M96. My plan was to include M95 and several other galaxies in the field. The field I wanted is shown below in a screen capture from ECU.

ECU reported a camera rotation angle of 132 degrees. Using Astro-Tortilla I snapped a few short exposures as I rotated the camera to get the desired field rotation. With the camera set, I fine tuned the frameĀ  centering and acquired a guide star. One a suitable guide star was found I had to wait for the Moon to set. Around 10:30 I finally turned the system loose and went to the warm room where it was a little more comfortable.

Unfortunately, since it was a work day, it had to cut my exposure short after about two hours. Since I was dithering I got about 90 minutes of exposure and grabbed a few darks for hot pixel mapping as I was tearing down the equipment. Although it needs a much longer exposure, hopefully I’ll get out again next month, the shot turned out reasonable well.

It is amazing how many galaxies are in the field. I stopped counting at 20 and there are eight across the face of M96 alone, including an edge on spiral embedded in the left spiral arm at about 9 o’clock.

 

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