M63 The Sunflower Galaxy

M63 The Sunflower Galaxy

Star formation is one of the most important processes in shaping the universe. In addition to birthing new stars, it gives rise to planetary systems and plays a pivotal role in the evolution of galaxies. Yet there is still much that astronomers do not understand about this fundamental process. The driving force behind star formation is particularly unclear for a type of galaxy called a flocculent spiral. Unlike grand-design spiral galaxies, flocculent spiral galaxies do not have well defined spiral arms. Instead, they appear to have many discontinuous arms.

M63, also known as the Sunflower galaxy, is one such flocculent spiral galaxy. Although it only has two arms, many appear to be winding around its yellow core in this image captured by Hubble. The arms shine with the radiation from recently formed blue stars and can be more clearly seen in infrared observations. By imaging flocculent spiral galaxies like M63, astronomers hope to gain a better understanding of how stars form in such systems.

The Sunflower galaxy was discovered in 1779 by the French astronomer Pierre Méchain and was the first of 24 objects that Méchain would contribute to Charles Messier’s catalog. The galaxy is located roughly 27 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Canes Venatici. It has an apparent magnitude of 9.3 and appears as a faint patch of light in small telescopes. The best time to observe M63 is during May. 

acquisition details

Telescope: OOUK AG16 inch newtonian at 1590mm

Mount: Paramount MEII unguided

Camera: Atik11000 with Chrome LRGBHa filters

PRISM v10 for automation, capture and pre-processing

AstroPixelProcessor for post-processing

Lights: 12x300s RGB, 60x300s L

Calibrations frames: 11x LRGB skyflats, 11x300s darks and 11x300s Biases 

Some notes worth mentioning. The OOUK AG16 has been a very stiff system to work with coming at 9.2" RMS out of 203 point in a T-point model, but collimation was less than ideal. The secondary mirror is pushed using standard M6 bolts which is incredibly unacceptable considering the critical focus zone of this F/3.8 newtonian is something like 50um. We will look at this issue at a latest time. We do realize the potential of this telescope and can't help but wonder how much better the images can be. stay tuned..



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