Updated: Mar 29, 2020
Featured on The Astrophotographer's Guidebook.
Spiral galaxy M81 and starburst galaxy M82 are two magnificent neighboring galaxies, that are almost always photographed as a pair. M82 (The Cigar Galaxy) is one of our favorite galaxies. It is a starburst galaxy which its core is 100+ times brighter than the one in our Milky Way.
Here is our image of the pair, we only spent 3 hours on it and are pretty happy with the result!
Camera: Canon 7D Mark II
Telescope: Orion 8" Astrograph f/3.9
Mount: Atlas EQ-G motorized Mount
Total Exposure Time: 3 hours
Exposure Time per frame: 3 minutes
60 lights - 15 Darks - 15 Bias
A cropped version of Bode's Galaxy. There are great details in the arms, as well as the core. Notice how the color differs as the gases expands from the center.
Here is Hubble's version of the Cigar Galaxy. You can clearly see the red gases getting expelled from the center of the galaxy! Getting those with a DSLR can be quite a challenge.
This is our cropped image of M82. It looks completely blend after seeing Hubble's, but that was the point.
You can see that some of the red gas is visible. The only way to have some more is a longer total exposure time, the use of filters, or the use of a CCD camera.
Locating Bode's Galaxy and the Cigar Galaxy
Both galaxies are visible through binoculars and telescopes, but not with the naked eye. Depending on the instrument, M81 will look like a blurry oval shape with a bright center, while M82 will appear as a thin line of light.
The pair are located in the constellation of the Big Dipper: Ursa Major. The easiest way to find them is to first spot the bright star Dubhe, which forms the top point of the Big Dipper pan, then travel about 10 degrees northwest to spot the two galaxies.
The pair were discovered in 1774
M82 is the closest starburst galaxy to Earth
M81’s tidal forces affect M82 and increases its star forming activity
WIDE FIELD CAPTURE OF M81 & M82
Although not the best for DSLR lens astrophotography, M81 and M82 can still be captured without a telescope. Below if our image of the pair using a 300mm lens on a Canon t3i and iOptron Skytracker
You also can photograph M81 and M82 without tracking the sky! Here is our version of the pair with the same camera and lens as above, but doing really short exposures on a simple tripod for about 3 hours.
SINGLE SHOT & PROCESSING OF M81 & M82
The processing is fairly simple, however, it may be a challenge to make the red hues of the Cigar galaxy visible. Longer exposure times or the use of a filter will help to bring out the red color.
Unfortunately, the only single shot we still have from this target is the unguided test shot we did. It was still a 3 minute exposure, so you can just imagine that all the stacked single shots we had were the same as this one, without the star trails.
M81 & M82 are two wonderful targets for any amateur astrophotographer. When taking a photo of the two, make sure to double check that both galaxies fit nicely in the frame of the camera.
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