Thursday, March 19, 2009

Fuzzy Objects

Galaxy M66 imaged at 10 PM local time last night with the physics department's 16" refracting reflecting telescope + CCD camera. This is a stacked image of five 80-second exposures:

Not bad for a small telescope in a city. Here's what it looks like with images taken through color filters on a much nicer telescope

M66 is a barred spiral galaxy located in the constellation Leo. It's relatively nearby at a distance of 35 million light-years. At this distance, its apparent angular size is 9 minutes of arc -- one third the apparent size of the full Moon -- which makes it about 90,000 light-years in diameter. The bluish hue of the spiral arms is indicative of star formation, where lots of massive, hot stars are being created in high-density regions of molecular hydrogen gas and dust.

My astronomy students will be taking images like the first one for their semester projects, including at least eight other galaxies. Last night was a test run to see how well the instrumentation is working. I'll post the student images in the next few weeks.


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