Bird’s Eye View of Messier 101

A Bird's Eye View of Messier 101

A Bird’s Eye View of Messier 101 (Click for larger view)

Sorry, after my last post the temptation was too great to call this a bird’s eye view. More correctly stated this is a view of a face-on galaxy, the gorgeous Messier 101 otherwise known as the Pinwheel Galaxy.

What I love about face-on galaxies is that they allow you to really see the structure and contents of the galaxy much more that any angled or edge on view.

You don’t have to look at M101 very long before you realize that the pinwheel shape is not perfect. Something has “bent” one of the “propellers” of this pinwheel. The right side of this galaxy as seen in this image looks fairly synchronous. However, the left side shows that one of “the propellers”, or more correctly the arms, have been disturbed and the overall shape of  the pinwheeel is far from circular. Most likely this was caused by the gravitational influence of a nearby passing galaxy some time in the way back. Even so, there are few galaxies in our night sky that show as perfect a face-on view as M101. Sometimes I like to put on some space music (most likely from my favorite space music composer Jonn Serrie) and slowly drift across the face of this galaxy imaging what it must look like to those closer to it or even in one of its arms. Very relaxing.

In a related way it is very nice to be able to see so many objects in a face-on galaxy. In particular I am speaking of the numerous hydrogen-alpha (reddish) regions seen in M101. Let’s take a little imaginary journey. If you look about half way out from the galaxy’s core to the edge of the galaxy in a four o’clock direction from the galaxy center you might notice a bright blue spot. Let’s pretend for a moment that in that area there exists an earth-like planet teeming with life. Somewhere on the planet there is an amateur astronomer such as yourself. When your “sun” or “suns” have set and the goodness of the night is upon you might see the center of your galaxy rise above you looking much like our “milky way” looks to use on summer nights away from light pollution. Then a number of months later as the night settles in and your planet has rotated half way around its suns, you now are looking outward from your 4 o.clock position away from the core out towards a large arm of your galaxy and see a spectacular series of h-alpha regions. Perhaps they might look something like a spectacular h-alpha region we have back here in the Milky Way galaxy called the Pelican Nebula and imaged last year on this site here.

“The goodness of the night upon you, friends!” – Othello Act I Scene 2.


Celestron EdgeHD 14″ at f/7 using QSI 583ws. 30 minutes luminnace, 75 minutes color data. Post processed in CCD Stack and Photoshop. It has taken me quiet awhile to finally produce an image of this quality at the f/7 focus For nearly a year I struggled with the coma that was produced with a focal reducer I purchased in the days before Celestron came out with their Reducer Lens (.7x) for the EdgeHD 1400. Now I have spent the $600 to purchase the Celestron version of the focal reducer and find that it was money well spent. While there is some coma detectable at the very edges of hi-rez views, it is small and acceptable.

Beyond the issue of reducers and coma this image is one of the first I have published since integrating a lot of information I have learned for OCA astrophotograhers and the marvelous video series on CCDStack and Photoshop produced by Adam Block.

Actually I am surprised the image came out as well as it did since it only has 30 minutes of luminance data and 75 minutes of RGB data. I guess that is one of the advantages of having a big mirror. I will be excited when I can image M101 again with several hours of luminance and color data.