This is an exciting month if, like me, you’re driven by the prospect of taking photos of the night sky. It is the last month of full darkness before our northern summer kicks in, and there are some truly magnificent sights for the budding astrophotographer.
Why this month in particular? Well, it’s the galaxies that are visible in the region of Ursa Major / The Great Bear / The Plough / The Big Dipper or whatever is your favourite name for this most straightforward of constellations. For the first half of the night, the constellation is turned so that some of my favourite galaxies are at zenith – i.e. they are straight up overhead in the night sky. This means they will be viewed, and photographed, through the least amount of the Earth’s atmosphere.
Last month I mentioned M81 and M82. This month I’ll be hoping for a clear night to catch two more favourites, M101 and M51.
M101 is a beautiful spiral galaxy, known as the “Pinwheel Galaxy”, and it is visually about the size of the Moon. Here is the location after midnight (actually 2am) in the middle of the month.
M51 is one of those iconic pictures once seen, never forgotten. The “Whirlpool Galaxy” is strictly in the constellation of Canes Venatici, one of the Hunting Dogs of Bootes the Herdsman, but it tis so close to Ursa Major the it is easier to find using that constellation as a guide. Here it is on the same night as M101 above.
I’ll be taking any chance at catching these, and hope to present the results at the next EAS meeting on the 11th of May. Do come along, even if you’re not yet a member, and see how it turned to for me!
For the visual observers out there, the sky is still playing host to lots of planets. Here’s an excellent summary by the ever-reliable Ian Morison of Jodrell Bank