M13 or the Great Globular Cluster in Hercules is an astronomy favorite. It is 145 light years in diameter and contains approximately 300,000 stars. I’ve recently focused two telescopes on the region of our galaxy. Of course one is the RRRT (Rapid Response Robotic Telescope) located at Fan Mountain in Charlottesville, VA and the other is my modified Orion Astroview 6 telescope. Let’s begin with the professional telescope.
Up Close & Personal
With more than 1 hour of data collected, it looks impressive. The detail in this M13 photo is what garnered a more than 1.0k up votes on Reddit (Go Hoos!) in less than 24 hours. When I chose to attempt this photo, I decided to not incorporate color. My mistake, bruh! It would have made it that much more appealing. In my young post processing career, I wanted to do M13 justice.
By justice, I mean showing off the capability of the camera and telescope and exposing the great many parts of this globular cluster. Pay close attention to the stars in the center of the cluster. It’s not a large blurr. Zoom in and you can count them. Ok some of them.
Finally a lot about this photo was simple. I can run the telescope from my recliner hundreds of miles away. The calibration frames are automatically done and applied to the photos before I receive them. What more could you want from an image taking session?
At home it’s different. I have to plan my imaging session early in the day and begin execution of that plan just before sunset. Capturing M13 was no different. Having chosen the telescope, the timing for capturing the photo was the terrible. There was an 85% Waxing Gibbous Moon out. In addition, my closest neighbor left their lights on with brand new bulbs. I was so bright out, my shadow had shadows.
Change to the plans, I cleaned off my Orion Moon and Skyglow Light Pollution Filter and began capturing 2 minute sub frames. The result was actually better than expected. The light pollution filter allowed enough light from the stars to enter the camera. While the center is a blob of light, the detail is excellent with the outer stars. This one also has the natural color which shows the vast quantity of blue stars in the cluster. I also cropped the photo to explore the detail.
The post processing was more complicated and took more than 1 day to complete. The reward I believe is a comparable photo to the RRRT. Certainly a bit less detail, but just as stunning visually. What do you think?
Thank you for your time and comments are always welcome. Clear skies!
In light polluted areas, seeing fuzzy star clusters is nearly impossible to the naked eye. Therefore, when I attended a Star Party at the Virginia Living Museum, I wasn’t ready for the result. Ok full disclosure, it was my first Star Party. The lyrics from Arrested Development’s Tennessee come to mind, “the date was going great and my soul was at ease until a group…” Ah yes a group started bugging out and it was amazing. I was given the task to point my telescope at the Beehive Cluster, aka M44. The Beehive Cluster is an open star cluster. Everyone who looked at the cluster was amazed, be that as it may the stars in the cluster were invisible. Comments like “There’s nothing there” or “I see nothing in that part of the sky” or “That’s amazing!” were thrown out like bags of peanuts at a Nationals game.
A Little Science
So, your question is “how does this happen?” Here’s an example from my backyard. Yes, however, I had to do this again for effect. Just take a look at the sky between the trees. It’s dark blue and almost devoid of stars. The sky is “bright” because of the lights around Hampton Roads Virginia. Let me get a bit scientific here. A telescope can pierce through this light pollution and expose the stars that are there. It does this by focusing the light to a single focal point. Under magnification, the user to focus on this small point. The larger the aperture the more stars you can see. This great engineering marvel is what delivers the impactful punch we saw that night.
Here’s the final edited picture:
How I Captured the Beehive Cluster
Yes, you guessed it, I used the Meade EXT-125 telescope and Google Pixel to capture the photo. The camera has to be set to ISO 800 or higher to let in enough light to see the stars and minimize the amount of noise in the photo. This setting also depends on the seeing conditions at the time. There are about 1000 stars in the Beehive Cluster and is young at around 600 million years old. Perched around 577 light years away it’s a perfect target for amateur telescopes. Although, there are many more experienced, astronomers that will tell you that Messier found more impressive star clusters and the crowd favorite is M13, the Great Globular cluster. Do this with your neighbors and friends and wait for it…wait for it…yep there it is. Tell me about your experience.