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Did I see M51 (Whirlpool Galaxy)?

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#1 sunrag

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Posted 07 April 2020 - 02:16 PM

I have been trying to find M51 for past 9 months but no luck. Two nights ago, i tried again with my Apertura AD12 (Dobsonian)

 

I went to the spot indicated in star charts (I was using Sky & Telescope's Pocket Sky Atlas). There is a group of 3 stars forming a triangle in the vicinity of M51. So I searched around and found 3 stars that seem to match what I saw in the star chart, but I could not see M51. But I saw what appeared to be another star (about same brightness as the 3 triangle stars). I did not think too much of it then, and I assumed i was not in the correct spot so I gave up after a while.

 

Next day, I used Stellarium to view M51, and found that this is how it is supposed to look at low magnification:

M51.PNG

 

This picture looks just like what I saw through my telescope (3 stars making a triangle, and a fourth star like object nearby).

In Stellarium at low mag, M51 does appear like a star! So I am excited that I may have found M51 after all.

 

I live in a Bortle 6 site. I was not using any filters, but what filter should I be using? (I have several color filters, a ND filter, and an OIII filter).

 

Thanks for any comments!


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#2 Don H

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Posted 07 April 2020 - 02:26 PM

You have the vicinity correct, but M51 will look larger and more diffuse than a star. Try looking there again in a few nights before the moon comes up. The moon severely hampers the view of galaxies and other DSOs. Use a low power eyepiece in your 12" for your search. Filters are generally not useful for finding or observing galaxies.


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#3 astro744

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Posted 07 April 2020 - 02:28 PM

You appear to be at the correct spot.  Try higher magnification (increase in steps if you can) to get a darker background and increase contrast and of course larger image scale.  No filters on galaxies just a dark sky is needed.  An OIII filter is for nebulae.


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#4 havasman

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Posted 07 April 2020 - 02:29 PM

Do not use filters for galaxy observing. Use your aperture! A 12" quality aperture like you have should easily show M51 and its companion galaxy in detail and clearly. Increase magnification when you think you have the object in view. Something yielding a 1mm to 2mm exit pupil should be most effective.

 

Comparing your sketch to the field in a Pocket sky Atlas shows you are likely on target. but you can't see anything because you're not taking advantage of magnification.

 

But mostly, load that scope up and take it out in the dark where it can show you what it can do.

 

(An O-III filter can be very useful for observing extragalactic details, particularly giant H-II regions, when employed in large aperture scopes at high magnifications. But it is not useful for finding or generally observing galaxies. Other filters are also not useful.)


Edited by havasman, 07 April 2020 - 02:29 PM.


#5 sg6

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Posted 07 April 2020 - 02:29 PM

Sounds a little doubtful. The only reason I say is that being a Messier object you have a much better scope then Messier or Mechain ever had access to.



#6 TimK

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Posted 07 April 2020 - 02:30 PM

Well you are in the right neighborhood.  A 12 inch would normally show the galaxy easily.

Obviously you will need a much tighter FOV than what you drew so crank up the power!

 

Keep in mind that high humidity and an almost full moon could wash out most deep sky objects.

Wait another week or so and try again.


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#7 Sam M

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Posted 07 April 2020 - 02:30 PM

I don't usually look at galaxies with the AD12 from my Bortle 8ish yard, so I'm not sure what you'd see.  But, I think your AD12 should be able to spot it.  Definitely go for no moon, and away from lights if possible, and let your eyes dark adapt if possible.  No filters.  Under low magnification (30mm ish) it'll look like two fuzzy/faint stars close together.  From there, increase magnification to 15-20mm and see if the change helps.  Then try 9-13mm.  Also, try averted vision, that is, look just to the side of it.


Edited by Sam M, 07 April 2020 - 02:33 PM.

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#8 W. T. Riker

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Posted 07 April 2020 - 02:31 PM

Bortle 6 is pretty bright. I suggest leaving the city for darker skies..  It'll really pop in that 12" if you can get to a blue zone.



#9 vdog

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Posted 07 April 2020 - 02:55 PM

I live under Bortle 6 skies, and I've seen it in a 10" scope, so 12" should bring it in.  For me, I can see it only if the transparency is good to excellent.  Otherwise, forget it.

 

You'll know it when you see it.  In my 10", I can see a pair of dim fuzzies (M51 and its companion NGC 5194) right next to each other. That's about it.  I saw it once under darker skies (Bortle 3) and it was amazing.


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#10 Bean614

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Posted 07 April 2020 - 03:04 PM

As suggested earlier in this thread,  Wait until there's NO moon in the sky!  You'll see it just fine in the area you described. 


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#11 Jon Isaacs

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Posted 07 April 2020 - 03:21 PM

I have been trying to find M51 for past 9 months but no luck. Two nights ago, i tried again with my Apertura AD12 (Dobsonian)

 

I went to the spot indicated in star charts (I was using Sky & Telescope's Pocket Sky Atlas). There is a group of 3 stars forming a triangle in the vicinity of M51. So I searched around and found 3 stars that seem to match what I saw in the star chart, but I could not see M51. But I saw what appeared to be another star (about same brightness as the 3 triangle stars). I did not think too much of it then, and I assumed i was not in the correct spot so I gave up after a while.

 

Next day, I used Stellarium to view M51, and found that this is how it is supposed to look at low magnification:

 

 

This picture looks just like what I saw through my telescope (3 stars making a triangle, and a fourth star like object nearby).

In Stellarium at low mag, M51 does appear like a star! So I am excited that I may have found M51 after all.

 

I live in a Bortle 6 site. I was not using any filters, but what filter should I be using? (I have several color filters, a ND filter, and an OIII filter).

 

Thanks for any comments!

 

Sunrag:

 

I am quite sure you saw M51. 

 

Two nights ago the moon was nearly full and your skies were much brighter than normal.  I have observed it under a fully moon from my urban backyard and it appears much as you described. I remember some years ago a friend brought over a new 8 inch Dob for come collimation help. The moon was nearly full so we decided if either of us could spot M51.  We both did but it was because of having seen quite a few times before and knowing what to look for. 

 

Under such circumstances, all you will see is the very central core of M51 and it will appear as a somewhat fuzzy star.  

 

The star-like object you found was in exactly the right place, there's nothing else there, I'd say you found it.

 

It's not much to look at under a full moon.  It will be better in a week or so and if you make it out to dark skies, it will be much better.  M51 is probably my favorite galaxy because under dark skies the spiral structure is so obvious.  It's not spread out like M101 or M33, it's actually quite bright. 

 

Jon


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#12 Sketcher

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Posted 07 April 2020 - 03:25 PM

By adding just two additional bits of information you ought to be able to remove all doubt on your own.

 

1.  It would be very helpful to know the true field of view of your eyepiece-telescope combination.

2.  Determine the celestial directions -- north, west, etc. in your eyepiece view.

 

Determining one's true FOV is easily done.  Many of us have tables where we've recorded all our true FsOV for all of our eyepiece-telescope combinations (I've done this for my own equipment).  Similarly, it's easy to determine celestial directions while looking through the eyepiece.  This is just basic stuff that everyone ought to know.

 

By having this added information, you'll be better able to tell if the three stars you saw were the same as the three you've circled.  You'll also know which direction from the triangle to look for the galaxy -- while looking through the eyepiece.

 

And of course, as others have said, wait until the moon is gone and your sky is about as dark as it gets.  M51 is an easy object to see with a 1-inch telescope from a dark sky; but from brighter skies it can become a bit more challenging.


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#13 Steve OK

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Posted 07 April 2020 - 03:25 PM

Yep.  I agree with Jon here, that little group of 4 is what I always look for to spot M 51, with one of the four being the galaxy.  With bright skies at low power, all you are going to see is the nucleus of M 51 which will

look sort of star-like at low power.  

 

Steve


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#14 chrysalis

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Posted 07 April 2020 - 03:32 PM

I can see it easily from my Bortle 5 backyard, especially when it is higher up, in the 12". Haze/humidity and moonlight/light pollution really do affect its visibility. Because the edges are more diffuse, higher powers can actually decrease (my, the) ability to perceive the arms. My favorite view is at 114X with 100° Explore. This galaxy is one of a few that easily shows some of the structure you see in photos, and so is always a go to object when available.


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#15 sunrag

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Posted 07 April 2020 - 04:17 PM

Thank you everyone for taking the time to reply!

Yes the moon was out and seeing was not very good either. 

 

 I was using an Apertura SuperView 30mm ep with a AFOV of 68 degrees, so it works to a TFOV of 1.36 degrees. If I put in the ep specs in Stellarium it does show that I should be able to see all 3 stars and M51 within the field of view. Next time, I will make a drawing to make sure I got the orientation right but I remember checking the shape of the triangle and mentally inverted it to make sure it matched the one in the star chart.

 

Just now noticed that I could get Alkaid and M51 within Telrad's outer circle as shown below. I can use that as double-check next time I am out. 

 

M51 and Alkaid in Telrad.PNG

 

It is hard to transport the AD12 anywhere, but I do travel to a Bortle 4/5 site in Ohio frequently. I will try it there next time for sure. M51 was actually the main reason I bought the AD12!

 

Now, I have been able to see M81 and M82 without doubt from my backyard before but somehow M51 seems to elude me. Also trying to find M101 but there is not even a hint of it although I have scoured the location several times. M101 makes an almost perfect equilateral triangle (definitely an isosceles triangle) with Alkaid and Mizar, so should be easy to locate in theory.


Edited by sunrag, 07 April 2020 - 04:27 PM.

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#16 Jon Isaacs

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Posted 07 April 2020 - 05:39 PM

Sunrag:

 

M101 is relatively easy to locate under dark skies. Looking at the light pollution map for Carmel, IN, it looks close to Indianapolis, think M101 needs to wait for dark skies. It has no bright core to peek through the light pollution.

 

Jon


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#17 havasman

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Posted 07 April 2020 - 05:40 PM

If you're having trouble seeing M51 then M101 will only be much more difficult due to its lower surface brightness.


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#18 havasman

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Posted 07 April 2020 - 05:47 PM

Try Leo Triplet - M65, M66 and NGC3628. And M106. And M104 id it's not too far south from your location. M63 & 64 are bright.

 

Successful observations of these should help you realize the potential of your light polluted location as well as build skills that will be useful with more difficult observations. It will also inform your memory so that you will be more able to see the impact of darker sky observing when you can put that together.

 

Observe along or near the meridian for best results.


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#19 vdog

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Posted 07 April 2020 - 06:14 PM

Also trying to find M101 but there is not even a hint of it although I have scoured the location several times. M101 makes an almost perfect equilateral triangle (definitely an isosceles triangle) with Alkaid and Mizar, so should be easy to locate in theory.

Under the best conditions my Bortle 6 skies can offer (no moon, great transparency, good dark adaptation), M101 is just barely at the edge of detectability with my 10".  With averted vision, I can detect a large, roughly circular glow.  That's about it.  That's also one that is a completely different experience at a dark site.   Otherwise, you have to be in exactly the right place and know what you're looking for.  The extra aperture will help, but I don't know how much. It is a good target to challenge yourself with.

 

If you want something much easier and haven't observed it already, I would suggest the nearby M94. It's fairly easy to find in Canes Venatici and holds up well even in challenging conditions (moon, less-than-ideal transparency, etc.).  It can also handle a lot of magnification.


Edited by vdog, 07 April 2020 - 06:20 PM.

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#20 charlesgeiger

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Posted 07 April 2020 - 08:26 PM

You were looking at the right spot.  Even when very challenging circumstances, such as you describe (I am in Bortle 8 area also) you will see two bumps usually.  I had my Nexstar 11 out about a week ago and saw it and if my memory serves me I have seen it with a 5" here too but again, look for two very faint disks in the same field...the other galaxy will present a smaller disk and just a tad bit fainter.

As all have said, this galaxy comes alive in a dark sky.  Forget M101 as you need more contrast than a Bortle 8 sky will give you...and as Jon said it does not have a bright nucleus to peak through.

charlie


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#21 brentknight

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Posted 07 April 2020 - 08:50 PM

On a really good night, I’ve been able to pick M101 out with 70mm binoculars from my B5/6 skies. But it’s very difficult with my 14”. The problem is the low contrast and fairly uniform brightness of the galaxy. It was visible in the binoculars because they captured enough light and allowed me to see the sky around the object. From a nearby B4 site, M101 was a pretty easy object with the 14”. But what’s really interesting is that my 102mm refractor at a very dark B3 site on a very clear night showed at least as much as the 14” had. M51 is an easier target, but is very dependent on conditions. You can use it to gauge the quality of the night by how much detail you can see between the two companions.

 

M101 and M51 really require different techniques to view them. M51 can take magnification (once you have identified it). M101 does not do well at higher magnification (unless you are trying to spot the details within it). 


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#22 Astro-Master

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Posted 07 April 2020 - 11:28 PM

M82 is probably the easiest galaxy to see in a Bortle 6 sky.  It has a high surface brightness  because its light is concentrated into a edge-on view, rather than a face on view, where the light is spread out.  Its also on the opposite side of the sky from the Moon. 


Edited by Astro-Master, 08 April 2020 - 02:19 AM.

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#23 vdog

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Posted 08 April 2020 - 02:46 PM

On a really good night, I’ve been able to pick M101 out with 70mm binoculars from my B5/6 skies. But it’s very difficult with my 14”. The problem is the low contrast and fairly uniform brightness of the galaxy. It was visible in the binoculars because they captured enough light and allowed me to see the sky around the object.

So, just like M33, it's easier to see in binoculars?  I would have never thought to try this with M101.  I'm definitely breaking out the binos the next opportunity I get. 

 

Thanks for sharing this. waytogo.gif


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#24 brentknight

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Posted 08 April 2020 - 02:55 PM

It's a challenge with binoculars, but I've seen it very faintly.  With larger scopes it's a forest for the trees sort of situation.  While scanning for it, it's easy to just go right over it without noticing it.  Similar thing happens with the California Nebula or the NA Nebula.



#25 vdog

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Posted 08 April 2020 - 03:02 PM

It's a challenge with binoculars, but I've seen it very faintly.  With larger scopes it's a forest for the trees sort of situation.  While scanning for it, it's easy to just go right over it without noticing it.  Similar thing happens with the California Nebula or the NA Nebula.

I'm sure it is, but it should be perfectly placed for me to get to it with my 20x80s.  It'll be interesting to compare what I see with the view in my 16".

 


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