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A galaxy far, far away…

I think it’s common knowledge by now that I am head over heels about my iOptron star tracker. It’s a fantastic piece of kit, and I feel like it has somehow given me a whole new sky. Ok, so I’m kicking myself – hard – that I didn’t buy it a couple of months earlier, so I could have used it to photograph Comet Lovejoy at its best, but without a TARDIS or a DeLorean there’s nothing I can do about that. I have it now, and it’s brilliant, and it’s letting me take images I have dreamed of taking for a long time.

Last Thursday night I went up to a (reasonably) dark sky site just outside Kendal with my friend and observing buddy Carol, a fellow member of the Eddington Astronomical Society of Kendal, and I got some really nice shots with the iOptron, like these…

LJ1 135mm crop 2

Comet Lovejoy, now drifting quietly through Cassiopeia as it heads back out into deep space… and it still has a pretty tail…

DC 135mm crop

The famous “Double Cluster”, not too far from Lovejoy and Cassiopeia actually…

And I took this image too – this is a crop from a stack of four images of varying exposures taken with my Canon 1100D, with my beloved 135mm “vintage” lens…

M101  f

That’s the spiral galaxy M101, which lies close to the end of the Great Bear’s tail and is a great favourite of many amateur and professional astrophotographers. I know, it doesn’t look much, just a small smudgy cloudy… thing… but that’s not the point. The point is, I took that image with my iOptron and my (below!) entry level DSLR and an old, battered 135mm M42 mount lens, from a car park beside a small church just outside Kendal, and I never thought I would. I am chuffed to bits with that image, because you can see the spiral arms quite clearly –

And again, many people reading this will be thinking “So what!” because a moment’s Google searching for images of M101 brings up literally thousands, taken from all around the world, and even the most basic “through a telescope” shot shows more detail than mine! But seriously, when that image popped into view when Deep Sky Stacker had done its thing, I was beyond chuffed. It really hit me that that little cream-in-coffee swirl glowing softly behind the curtain of glittering stars is a galaxy… a GALAXY for pity’s sake… and it’s a galaxy much bigger than our own Milky Way, perhaps as much as 70% bigger. That little smoky catherine wheel contains hundreds of billions of stars MORE than our own Milky Way…  Even more amazingly, it is over 21 million light years away… 21 MILLION… that means that the light which entered my humble little Canon that evening, moving down through my old faithful 135mm Soligor lens to register on the camera’s chip set off 21 million years earlier, when our ancestors were still shimmying up and down trees…

Looking at that image I can’t help but wonder… how many civilisations does that galaxy contain? How many of its stars are the “Sun” to a species that evolved to know its place in the universe? How many living, lush, green and blue worlds lie within those gracefully curving spiral arms? How advanced is the life there? Do empires spanning dozens of systems thrive there? Do gleaming starships plough through the epic voids between the scattered suns…? Do astronomers on its inhabited worlds, amateur and professional, see our own Milky Way as a tiny spiral smudge in the sky, and photograph it with their own telescopes, cameras and iOptrons, from their church car parks..?  I guess we’ll never know.

But I do know that I am very pleased with that image, and I think I can feel a bit of a quest coming on now… a quest to capture the Spring’s galaxies with my iOptron. I can’t compete with the Hubble, or with accomplished astrophotographers like the legendary Robert Gendler, but I can hopefully make some pretty pictures of my own 🙂

collage m101c


2 Responses

  1. Stuart. Great images, I’m impressed with the iOptron. What typical exposure times are you getting with the 135mm lens?

  2. wonderful work once again thank you

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