Messier 102 - The Spindle Galaxy Astrophotography

Messier 102 is a lenticular galaxy seen edge-on in Draco. Near M102 and included in our field of view is another galaxy, NGC 5907! Our image is just 2 hours and 15 minutes of exposure time. My laptop got full and SGP did not give me any error message until sunrise... it just kept writing 0KB files all night that all ended up in the trash 🤦🏼‍♂️. Because I was not very hopeful about the end result, I also did not bother stacking darks or flats. In the end the result is not bad though!

Those are not the best targets to image unless you have a large telescope, but it had to be done for the purpose of our growing Messier catalog!

Object Designation: M102

Also known as: The Spindle Galaxy

Constellation: Draco

Object Type: Lenticular Galaxy

Distance: 40.8 million light-years away

Magnitude: 9.9

Discovered in: 1781

The image on the left shows our main target, the Spindle Galaxy (M102).

Messier 102 is was discovered by Pierre Méchain in 1781. It was then entered into Charles Messier's catalog but later believed to be a duplicate of M101.

As of today, M102's entry is known as one of Messier's mistakes, although it is still officially included and named M102.

The galaxy on the right is NGC 5907, also known as the Knife Edge or Splinter Galaxy.

Hubble’s picture of that object is pretty cool as you can see a bunch of spiraling gases going crazy around the galaxy, which is impossible to see here. I believe that this gas can be brought up in amateur astrophotography is imaging from a Bortle 1 with a fast telescope for at least 20 hours.

Besides M102 and NGC 5907, several other galaxies can be seen all over our main image as you can see below! My favorite object in this wide 655mm field of view is the spiral galaxy visible near the bottom. I really wish I could image that one with a large telescope someday!

The image below is the result of just 2 hours and 15 minutes of total exposure taken from a Bortle 3 zone.

M102 and friends with an OSC camera and a refractor


Camera: QHY600C

Telescope: Stellarvue SVX130

Mount: Astro-Physics Mach1

Guiding: ZWO ASI 290MM Mini

Accessories: Moonlite Nitecrawler focuser

Processing: Pixinsight


Total Exposure Time: 2.25 hours

Exposure Time per frame: 5 minutes

Filters: N/A

Gain: 26

How to find Messier 102?

Located 40.8 million light-years away, Messier 102 can be found in the large constellation of the dragon: Draco.

M102 will appear very small through most telescope, and is not very bright either. The fact that it is seen edge-on definitely does not help.

M102 lies near the Böotes side of the Draco constellation, where the body of the dragon twisted. The right galaxy is difficult to spot because it is surrounded by several other ones so you may be looking at an NGC object thinking it is in fact M102.

Processing the Spindle and Splinter Galaxies

Processing M102 and the nearby NGC 5907 can either be very easy or very difficult depending on the instrument used. The details in the galaxies are not tricky to bring out, but the shape of the arms/gas around M102's core can be a challenge to work on.

In our case, processing this image was not a piece of cake because both objects look very small through our 655mm refractor telescope, especially using a full frame camera. It was near impossible to enhance specific detail in each galaxy and the best I could do was to process the overall image as best as possible and simply try not to blow up each core. In the end, a boost of saturation using masks is really what brought the objects to life.

The Spindle Galaxy M102 - Single shot of 5 minutes

If you are interested in learning how I process all our images, you can download a full PDF "follow along" file that contains 77 pages, a full 1 hour and 45 minutes walkthrough tutorial video, our custom pre-sets and even raw data HERE.

Final Thoughts

The Spindle Galaxy (as well as the nearby Splinter Galaxy) is not an easy target to capture and process. A wide field telescope is not recommended as these objects are simply too small and thin. On the other hand, owners of long focal length instruments will have a blast imaging these galaxies, and bringing out details during processing should be much easier!

We chose not to make this image available as a print because it does not meet our quality standards, but check out the prints we have for other images HERE!

Have you captured Messier 102? Attach your image in the comments and let us know your acquisition details!

Make sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube to stay up to date with our work!

Clear Skies,

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