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M104 - The Sombrero Galaxy | DSLR Astrophotography Tips

Updated: May 31, 2023


The Sombrero Galaxy (M104) is a small lenticular galaxy. It lies about 30 million light years away from Earth. It lies in the constellation Virgo, and has a unique feature - it is seen edge-on! Find out more about M104 below, and find photos and information to help you with your astrophotography.

 

Sombrero Galaxy Astrophotography


The Sombrero Galaxy holds the biggest supermassive black hole ever recorded in any nearby galaxy. The black hole impacts its brightness, making it the brightest galaxy in a 10-megaparsec radius of the Milky Way!


Additionally, since it's viewed edge-on from Earth, we see an incredibly bright core with rich, dark dust lanes surrounding it. M104's unique look is what makes it one of the most interesting galaxy entries in the Messier Catalog.


We spent a little more than 3 hours on this deep-sky object. Overall, we did 3-minute exposures instead of the usual 6 minutes, because of how small and bright it is.


You can see how we captured this target in Episode 6 of Galactic Hunter!


Galactic Hunter M104 - The Sombrero Galaxy astrophotography

GEAR USED:

Processing: Pixinsight

ACQUISITION DETAILS:

Total Exposure Time: 3 hours and 9 minutes

Exposure Time per frame: 3 minutes

63 lights - 15 Darks - 15 Bias

ISO: 400


 

How to Locate the Sombrero Galaxy


sky graph to locate the Sombrero Galaxy

To locate it, look for the constellation of Virgo and find its brightest star, Spica. M104 can be spotted just 11.5 degrees west of the bright star.


The Sombrero galaxy can be seen from extremely dark sites with binoculars or telescopes. However, you won't make out the details shown in the image above. With a telescope of 10 inches or more, you may be able to distinguish the dark dust lanes in front of the galaxy’s bright center.


Cool Facts

  • M104 is 30% the size of the Milky Way Galaxy

  • Has a supermassive black hole with a mass of more than 1 billion suns

  • The brightest galaxy in a 10-megaparsec radius


Learn about all 110 Messier objects in our Messier Marathon post.


 

Single Shot and Processing of M104


Below you can see one of our single shots of M104. It was stacked with 61 other photos to make the main image above!


You might notice there are 3 bright stars on the right. Although interesting, they appear a little lackluster... Read more about them below.


single shot of M104 - the Sombrero Galaxy

Close up of M104 - the Sombrero Galaxy

To the right is a close-up of Messier 104. The biggest challenge you'll face with this galaxy lies in photo processing.


There's a fine balance between blowing out the core of the galaxy making it look overexposed, and making it look dull because it is not bright enough.

M104 - The Sombrero Galaxy astrophotography

Take caution and don't just focus on the galaxy. Consider the other objects in your frame, such as the beautiful stars to its the right.


They might have looked insignificant in our single shot, but these stars are actually an asterism called "The Jaws" and they are beautifully colorful.



Check out the other types of galaxies by visiting our galaxy resource page.


 

Galactic Hunter Episode #6 - The Sombrero Galaxy

The Sombrero Galaxy was the focus of the 6th episode of Galactic Hunter!

Discover how we captured Dalia's favorite target below.



 

Final Thoughts


photo of astrophotography rig photographing The Sombrero Galaxy
Our telescope tracking M104 for Episode 6

The Sombrero Galaxy is a small target that may seem difficult for beginner astrophotographers, but due to its brightness and easy processing - it is a great target for any amateur astrophotographer!


When taking shots, do your best to go to the darkest skies possible. Ensure that you know your way around your camera, and once it is dark enough play around with your exposure times. This is important for your data collection as you don't want to take photos that overexpose the core of the galaxy.


When processing, remember that there is a fine balance between a bright object and its surroundings. If using a similar setup to ours, you can also capture The Jaws within the frame. Try to bring out the core enough to see the dark dust lanes enveloping the core and bring out the colors of the asterism.


If you take a photo using our tips, come back with your finished image and share it with us in the comments. We would enjoy seeing your work!


Clear Skies,

Galactic Hunter



 

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Jeff Wilson
Jeff Wilson
06 may 2023

Here's my recent (April 8, 2023) M104. 120 x 60-sec exposures (plus 20 darks & flats, 30 bias frames)

2 hr total exposure

Bortle 4 sky

Waning gibbous Moon, 94% illuminated

ZWO ASI533mc Pro camera (gain 101, offset ?, -5°C)

Baader UV-IR Cut filter

Sky-Watcher ED120 with reducer (765 mm focal length) telescope

HEQ5 Pro mount (guided)

stacked and processed with Siriltweaked with raw Therapee


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