This image of Messier 101 was photographed with an 80mm APO refractor and a Canon 70D that is modified specifically for astrophotography. Unfortunately an 80mm wide field refractor is not a choice telescope for imaging a small target like Messier 101. Despite the obvious I figured Id have a go at it and have been collecting data on it over the past few months. So far I’ve managed to collect roughly 10,800 seconds worth of exposure time on it. This image is a collaboration of that data stacked in Deep Sky Stacker and Post Processed in Photoshop.
To give you an idea of Messier 101’s angular size, it is about the same size as our moon when full, about a half a degree, or 30′. Of course the moons apparent angular size changes drastically from hour to hour. Though that’s fairly small for an object that is barely visible to the human eye through a telescope. There are definitely more challenging targets, though I don’t think I would attempt photographing anything much smaller with a 80mm APO.
Messier 101 is lies in the Constellation of Ursa Major nearly 20 million light years away from earth and nearly 120,000 light years across. It is a monster spiral galaxy that is 2 to 3 times larger than our own massive Milky Way Galaxy. M101 is home to more than 1 Trillion stars, compared to the Milky Way’s 400 billion or so.
If you would like to observe, or image M101 April and May just happen to be two of the best months for doing so. Look to the eastern sky after sunset where you will find the Constellation of Ursa Major, also known as the Big Dipper. Messier 101 forms a perfect triangle with the two stars at the end of the Big Dippers handle, Alkaid and Mizar.
Own a DSLR camera? If so you can easily image M101, as well as hundreds of thousands of other objects within the night sky. You don’t need a massive equatorial mount to do so either! Ioptron recently released one of the most important pieces of astronomical equipment ever made. An ultra portable, ultra precise DSLR star tracking mount. The mount itself virtually fits within the palm of your hands and can be used to photograph the cosmos in detail using noting more than a DSLR and a lens. If you have any interest all in astronomy you own it to yourself to buy one!
Get one new or used extremely cheap on Ebay, or spend a little more and buy one from OPT, or HighPoint Scientific.
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The charts below show where Messier 101 is located in the night sky. There are several other galaxies lying in and around the Ursa Major as well. To locate them in real time there are several useful apps though none are as powerful as Stellarium which offers a mobile app which they charge a couple bucks for and a free version for your laptop, or desktop computer. The computer based software is available for Windows, Linux and Mac.
No image taken on earth compares to the image NASA assembled using 10 years worth of data on M101. In fact this image of Messier 101 is the largest composite image NASA has ever published. It was developed using 51 frames and is a whopping 16,000 x 10,000 pixels in size. This image shows M101 in amazing detail!
Thanks for dropping by and checking out my work.
Keep your eyes to the sky, Jer