Updated: May 22
Messier 109 is a barred spiral galaxy located in the constellation of the big bear, Ursa Major. It was discovered by Pierre Méchain in the year 1781. Messier 109 occupies the second to last entry in Messier's famous catalog of deep sky objects, in between M108 (seen edge-on and photographed during Episode 12 with M97) and M31's satellite galaxy M110 photographed in Episode 4 of Galactic Hunter.
M109 looks small and is not super bright at magnitude 11. It is part of the M109 group, a group of 79 galaxies of which it is the brightest member.
Below is our image of Messier 109. We consider this an unsuccessful attempt as we are not happy with our final image and will definitely try to get a better result another time.
This was taken soon after switching from our Canon 7D Mark II DSLR camera to our ASI 1600MM cooled Astrophotography camera, and we had no idea what settings to use for this object. More info on that is below!
We've tried to process our files several times, and you will see further down this post a version of M109 with a much smoother, less brutal processing workflow.
3 hours and 54 minutes on M109
Camera: ZWO ASI 1600mm Pro Mono
Telescope: 8" Astrograph f/3.9
Mount: Equatorial Motorized Mount
Guiding: Autoguider - 50mm Guide Scope
Total Exposure Time: 3 hours and 54 minutes
Exposure Time per frame: 3 minutes
Filters: L (1 hour) / R (1 hour) / G (1 hour) / B (54 min)
How to Locate Messier 109
You can find M109 quite easily as it lies just next to one of the bright stars forming the Big Dipper asterism: Phecda. Due to its size and brightness, you will need great, dark skies to spot the galaxy, and it will look like a tiny fuzzy patch. We did not see any details when observing this target with our 8" Newtonian telescope. M109 looked like a medium size, slightly elongated blurry star.
See photos of all the galaxies we've taken on our galaxy gallery page.
Mistakes to Avoid with Messier 109
Just like the other targets we captured the days/weeks after getting our CMOS camera (Thor's Helmet, M106, or the Owl Nebula & the Surfboard Galaxy), we did not know how to pick the settings for the Gain, as well as which filters to use and what exposure time we should spend on each!
Our image of Thor's Helmet was done in 3 hours and turned out pretty great doing one hour on each narrowband filter (Ha, SII, and OIII).
Messier 106, as well as M97 and M108 also ended up looking beautiful although we had a hard time dealing with noise in post-processing. These were our first targets in RGB (+ L) and we felt like we should have lowered the gain we used for narrowband, which was set to 139.
Files stacked and ready to be processed
After talking with a couple of other astrophotographers on Instagram, we learned that we should have spent way more time on the Luminance channel rather than doing 1 hour for each filter. This makes complete sense, as R, G, and B are just useful to give color to the image, but not details.
As you can see in the acquisition details under our image, we spent about one hour on each of the L, R, G, and B filters. We assume our final result would have been much better if we spent 2 or 3 hours on L and the rest on RGB.
As we mentioned in the intro of this post, we processed M109 several times, and actually never ended up with a result we were really proud of. At some point, we loaded up the files into PixInsight again and went through all our processing steps very fast without caring too much. This is something we sometimes do on purpose as the end result may sometimes be surprising in a good way.
For this target though, the final image we got is not one we will keep and proudly display anywhere. The background is a bit too dark and noisy, and the stars are over-saturated and have unnatural colors. The galaxy itself though is not bad at all! There are more visible details than in our "smoothly processed" image, and the colors of the spiral arms and the core match the true colors of this type of galaxy. We sadly did not manage to obtain a result that was in between these two images.
M109 with a more intense processing workflow
Messier 109 is not a galaxy we are very much in love with, but we sure had some long and frustrating "fun" in PixInsight trying to get a good final image of it! We initially photographed this target on a night when we found ourselves having no target in mind.
We are glad to have picked this one as it has filled the spot between M108 and M110 in our Messier Catalog!
We will revisit this object later in the future, once we feel more comfortable with our new camera.
GALACTIC HUNTER BOOKS
Description: Discover 60 Deep Sky Objects that will considerably improve your Imaging and Processing skills! Whether you are a beginner, intermediate, or advanced astrophotographer, this detailed book of the best deep-sky objects will serve as a personal guide for years to come! Discover which star clusters, nebulae, and galaxies are the easiest and most impressive to photograph for each season. Learn how to find each object in the night sky, and read our recommendations on imaging them in a quick and comprehensive way. Each target in this guide contains our advice on imaging, photos of expected results, and a useful information table. We've also included a few cool facts about each target, a map to find it in the night sky, and more!
Description: The Astrophotographer’s Journal is a portable notebook created for the purpose of recording observations, cataloging photographs, and writing down the wonderful memories created by this hobby. This book contains more than 200 pages to memorialize your stargazing and imaging sessions, as well as a useful chart on the last pages to index exciting or important notes. Read back on the logs to see how much progress you have made through the months, the problems you overcame, and the notes taken to improve in the future. Just as the pioneers of astronomy did in their time, look up and take notes of your observations as you are the author of this star-filled journey.
Description: The Constellations Handbook is a logical guide to learning the 88 constellations. Learning the constellations is difficult. Remembering them is even harder. Have you ever wanted to look up to the night sky, name any pattern of stars and be able to tell their stories? This book groups the constellations in a logical order so that the reader can easily learn them by their origin, and see how their stories interact with one another as a group. The last pages of this book include an index of all 88 constellations, each with a slot where you can write your own personal tips and tricks in order to memorize them with ease. The Constellations Handbook is not just another guide listing all the constellations from A to Z and their location, it is the perfect companion for stargazing and a learning journey through the ages.