Skip to Content

Leo Triplet

Deep-Sky Target: The Leo Triplet

|Galaxies|6 Comments

Astrophotography in Galaxy Season

This past weekend, the clouds conveniently parted for me on a nearly moonless Friday night. The “seeing” and “transparency” were by no means perfect, but I was not about to complain. Late winter and early spring are what’s known as “galaxy season” among amateur astronomers and photographers alike.  

The milder temperatures and the assortment of observable galaxies make this an enjoyable time of the year for astrophotography.  If I’m going to spend a night photographing galaxies from the backyard, it might as well be 3 at once: The Leo Triplet.

Winter stargazing comes to a close

As we turn our clocks forward for daylight savings time, the winter season of stargazing is on it’s way out. Even though the mighty Orion constellation still dominates our night sky to the South, he quickly fades into the west as the night sets in.  

This offers an opportunity for one last look at some delightful deep-sky treasures such as the Orion Nebula before the constellation reappears again in the fall.  As usual, there were far too many cloudy nights during the winter season then I would have liked, but I still managed to squeeze in some imaging time on the Horsehead Nebula, which I will re-visit again next year.

DSLR Astrophotography

My astrophotography projects this winter – Orion and Horsehead Nebulae

Waxing Crescent Moon with Earthshine

Waxing Crescent Moon with Earthshine

The waxing crescent moon on March 11, 2016, with visible earthshine

Before setting up my astrophotography gear for a night of deep-sky imaging, I took a moment to enjoy the beautiful waxing crescent moon. This is my favorite phase to observe the moon because of the visible Earthshine on the moon’s surface.

Earthshine is the faint glow caused by sunlight reflected off the earth, on the dark portion of the crescent moon.  I have never captured this phenomenon in a photograph so well before, so I am quite happy with my decision to spend some time with the moon before imaging my main deep-sky target for the night.

Celestron Astronomy Binoculars

Spring Constellations and Jupiter

Right now is prime time for observing deep-sky objects in the constellations Bootes, Coma Berenices, Virgo, and Leo. In my opinion, this is also the best time of year to view and photograph objects to the north in Ursa Major such as the Pinwheel Galaxy, Bode’s Galaxy, and the Cigar Galaxy.  

The planet Jupiter joins the mix right now, moving across the ecliptic all night long.  Below is a photo I took late Saturday night from the backyard.

Spring Constellations

The spring constellations from my backyard – March 11, 2016

Deep-Sky Target: The Leo Triplet

Once the moon had set, I began taking the first of many 4 minute exposures on the deep-sky target for the night: The Leo Triplet. The Leo Triplet consists of galaxies M65, M66 and NGC 3628.  

It is unique to see 3 spiral galaxies of a similar magnitude so close together in the night sky.  They appear quite small in my 3″ refractor with a focal length of 480mm. I would suggest using a telescope of at least 800mm to photograph this collection of galaxies for some better detail.  Perhaps I will photograph them again during the next new moon using my larger Newtonian reflector.

The Leo Triplet

M65, M66 and NGC 3628 – The Leo Triplet

Astrophotography Details and Camera Settings

Total Exposure Time: 3 Hours, 20 Minutes
Exposures: 50 x 4 minutes subs @ ISO 800

Support Files: 15 Darks, 15 Bias, 15 Flats
Stacking: Deep Sky Stacker
Processing: Adobe Photoshop CC 2015

Telescope: Explore Scientific ED80 F/6 Triplet APO
Imaging Camera: Canon 450D (Xsi) – Modified
Mount: Sky Watcher HEQ-5 Pro Synscan
Guide Telescope: Orion 50mm Mini
Guide Camera: Meade Dsi Pro II
Autoguiding: PHD Guiding
Camera Control: BackyardEOS

DSLR Astrophotography

I think it is safe to say I made the most of my Friday night in the backyard. I photographed the waxing crescent moon, the early spring constellations, the Leo Triplet cluster of galaxies and even the planet Jupiter. I finally set my camera to start taking 4-minute dark calibration frames shortly after 4am, and went to bed.  

I shot my bias and flat frames the next morning in a groggy haze. All in a day/night’s work for the backyard astrophotographer.

More Interesting Galaxies to Photograph:



Related Tags

Leo Triplet

|Blog Updates|0 Comments

Over the past weekend, I again traveled to my dark sky observing site for some DSLR astrophotography. The nights of late January here in Ontario, Canada are long and cold.

My deep sky target selection is a collection of 3 galaxies in the constellation Leo.

The Leo Triplet taken with Explore Scientific ED80 Apochromatic Refractor and Canon XSi

The Leo Triplet of Galaxies

This Saturday January 21st was or members observing night at my local astronomy club. Only myself and one other member attended because of cold weather and a lot of cloud cover. After setting up my gear at sundown, it wasn’t until 3:30am that the clouds finally parted!

I started out by capturing light on M80 and M81, but because of its difficult position in the sky, and some technical difficulties, my fellow club member recommended that I try imaging the Leo Triplet.  I was able to capture over 1.5 hours on this subject, and I am very happy to have snuck some imaging time in on such a cold, cloudy January night!

(Leo Triplet)

35 x 165″ ISO 1600
For a total of 1 hour 36 minutes

Stacked with dark, bias and flats

ES ED80 Apo Triplet
Orion Mini Guidescope
Meade DSI II
Canon 450d unmodded
Stacked in DSS
Processed in PS CS5

View a more recent photo of the Leo Triplet.

The photo on the left is me sitting in the warm room between camera/computer adjustments trying to keep warm.  The photo on the right is an example of how the clouds were teasing us with brief, beautiful views of the stars between 5pm-2am.

This experience speaks to the dedication (and perhaps insanity) of amateur astrophotographers. Who else would spend a January night outside in the cold in the dark? Looking back, I think nights like this might just be the memories I treasure the most.

Related Tags