The Pinwheel Galaxy


The BV’s astrophotographer Rob Nolan is back – and counting the days to those long winter nights


Apologies if you missed me last month, hopefully you still found yourself admiring the night sky and our local planets as they grace the skies!
We’ve lacked celestial darkness for the last month or so in the UK, but the nights are starting to get longer again – it’s a countdown for astronomers to a darker nights sky and back to extended nights of observing and imaging! Everyone else may groan, but we’re only getting more excited!
This month, I thought I’d take a look at a favourite galaxy among amateurs to image. The Pinwheel Galaxy, also known as M101, is a spiral galaxy located in the constellation of Ursa Major, the great bear. At a magnitude of 7.86, it’s one of the easier and larger galaxies in the night sky to image, despite it being actually difficult to observe visually. At 170,000 light years across and 20.9 million light years from Earth, its one of the many beautiful galaxies we can observe.
The galaxy has an unusually high number of Hydrogen II regions – shown in the image as bright purple areas – which is where new stars form. Many of these regions are bright and large, ionized by many extremely luminous and hot young stars.
The Galaxy appears symmetric in most images that only reveal its central region, but it is really quite asymmetrical as a result of interactions with smaller companion galaxies.
The galaxy’s core is displaced from the centre, likely as a result of a collision with another galaxy in the recent past. What’s also interesting about this galaxy is that it doesn’t appear to have a Black Hole at its centre (we know because we haven’t been able to detect the usual trace emissions in the galactic core).
M101 also gained a brand new supernova last month – difficult to identify in my image, but for more information and get a better look at this, head over to BBC’s Sky at Night Magazine

This image was captured with my 1000mm Maksutov Newtonian Telescope and the ZWO ASI2600MM Pro Astro camera with Broadband filters and is about 6 hours of data.

The night sky, July 2023 – Rob’s guide for your stargazing this month:

I might complain about the lack of darkness, but the good thing about summer nights is that its warm to go out and explore the night sky!
If you’re a fan of observing Venus you’ll notice this month that it will suddenly be gone from view!
But before it does, watch its celestial dance with the Moon, Mercury and Mars.
If you’re into your constellations, two ancients of the heavens are at their best this month. Sagittarius and Scorpius highlight the southern region of our night sky, set against the Milk Way.
On the 3rd of July, we had our first of four supermoons that we’ll encounter this year. Don’t worry if you missed it, the next one’s in August, so there’s not long to wait!
On 6th July at precisely 9.07pm, the Earth was the furthest from the Sun that we will be this year, known as the aphelion. Earth was a staggering 94.4 million miles from the Sun.
Observe Venus, the evening star, on the evening of the 9th as it reaches brightest luminance in the night sky at a magnitude of just 4.5.
If you’re an early bird on the 12th July, you can observe the bright gas giant Jupiter just before dawn as it hangs next to the crescent Moon.
On the 19th, the crescent Moon sits close to brilliant Venus, which can be seen low towards the west after sunset. If you grab a pair of binoculars you will be able to see Mercury below the Moon, with the star Regulus, and planet Mars above Venus.
The following night, on the 20th, these same celestial bodies do a switcharoo – Venus will be hanging below the Moon, with Regulus in between and Mars and Mercury seemingly engaged in a pincer movement to surround the Moon from the left and right.
Next month; get yourselves ready for a spectacular Meteor shower!
Until then, Clear Skies. 🙂


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