One learns quickly just how difficult it is to do astrophotography soon after attaching a DSLR camera to a telescope. And, it doesn't get easier as you further pursue the hobby. November was one of those difficult imaging months as I had not only to contend with weather, but also computer networking problems and tracking anomalies with my telescope mount. I was hoping to post images of the Helix Nebula, Triangulum Galaxy (M33), and the Phantom Galaxy (M74). I suppose I should be happy that I got two out of three although I'm not thrilled with the results, this is not the first time I've attempted to photograph these objects. At least the second attempts are an improvement over my first tries.
Last year, I imaged this galaxy with my then new imaging equipment but was unable to get the colors right. This year's attempt show the colors better although data from 3 of the 6 filters would not align. Otherwise, it would look far better than this. Meanwhile, enjoy exploring the fine structure of the Pinwheel Galaxy's spiral arms that are pock marked with many fuzzy open star clusters and separated by several dark dust lanes. Look how far the sweeping spiral arms extend from the galaxy's main structure. All the individual stars in this image are much closer foreground stars in the Milky Way.
M33 is the third largest of more than 54 galaxies in our local group. Andromeda and our own Milky Way are the first and second largest. The bright fuzzy "out of focus star" in the upper right section of the image is an intense star forming region in M33 known as NGC 604. NGC 604 is similar to the Great Orion Nebula (M42) found in our Milky Way, but forty times larger! For NGC 604 to look this bright when it's 3 million light years from Earth, it has to be one of the brightest known star forming regions in our "little corner" of the Universe. The reddish parts of M33 near the center are indicative of older stars, while the blueish regions farther out in the spiral arms are younger. This is typical of many galaxies including the Milky Way. Even though M33 is massive (estimated 40 billion stars), it's still much smaller than our Milky Way at 400 billion stars and the Great Andromeda galaxy at 1 trillion stars.
At magnitude 9.2, M 74 The Phantom Galaxy is arguably the most difficult of the 110 Messier objects to see through a telescope. I decided to leave this image as it appeared at the prime focus of the Mount Sangre Observatory telescope so you can see the size contrast between M74 and M33. This is a grand design spiral galaxy about the same size as our Milky Way. M33 is about 40% the size of the Milky Way. Yet look at how M33 and M74 appear in the two above images. From the relative size difference to the calculated distances of these galaxies from Earth, it's apparent that M74 is much farther away. In fact, at 30 million light years, M74 is 10 times farther away than the Triangulum galaxy!
Peculiar to M74 is the "kink" in one of the spiral arms shown on the right side of the galaxy in this image. I haven't been able to find any data as to what may have formed this dent in an otherwise fluid grand design of two spiral arms wrapping around the center of this beautiful face-on galaxy. I speculate that the kink may be due to a disruption of the density wave pattern that forms the graceful spiral arms. I suspect that a kink this large (several thousand light years long) would be a left over artifact of a gravitational encounter with another galaxy. Perhaps the relatively nearby peculiar shaped galaxy NGC 660 had a gravitational "fender bender" with M74 millions of years ago that affected the structure of both galaxies.
Your tax dollars working for you! This is the first fish eye lens picture taken from the Mars lander Insight after its historic touchdown on 26 November 2018 in Elysium Planitia. Elysium Planitia is a relatively flat sandy desert-like plain near Mars' equator and somewhat close to where NASA's Curiosity rover is still "prospecting" the martian terrain since 2012. This image which includes one of Insight's support legs and a martian rock near the lower center looks like it was taken through a dirty windshield. That's because the transparent protective lens cap on the lander is still on the camera and dust and dirt kicked up by the landing maneuver is sticking to the lens cap.
Here's a clearer picture from another camera on Insight's deployment deck. It shows the stowed grappling arm that will pick up a seismometer that will monitor Mars quakes and a Heat Flow Probe that will "jack hammer" itself 16 feet below the martian surface. The grappling arm will place these two instruments in strategic locations on the ground near the lander. Together, they will study the interior of Mars and, if the below surface Heat Flow Probe detects a warm enough temperature, it could imply that liquid water can exist similar to ground water below Earth's surface. Another purpose of the Heat Flow Probe is to study the rate of heat release from the interior of Mars.
Here's an artists conception of how the Insight Lander will look on the surface of Mars after it deploys its ground sensors. You can learn more and get important updates on this mission by visiting mars.nasa.gov/insight on the Internet.