The Night of Spiral Galaxies


Galaxies Like Us

messier 66_40seczoom_Green
M66 green filter

M65 and M66 are two spiral galaxies visible with a moderate size telescope, or even binoculars with a dark sky.  We plan to observe them at the Observatory this week, so I decided to take some pictures.

These are spiral galaxies with very obvious spiral arms and dust and gas lanes more distinguishable than most.


Most galaxies appear to be elliptical.  The beautiful spiral structure we see in M31

messier 66_40seczoom_Blue_
M66 blue filter

and imaging for our own Milky Way is rare.  So our special galaxies for this public observing session are special.

Part of a group some call the “Leo Trio” Messier objects 65 and 66 are spiral galaxies with arms we can see with dark skies and medium magnification.  The arms are visible to us mostly because of the huge number of bright, hot young stars are there.  The arms are where most star ignition is happening.

But there are also stars in the dark areas in between the spiral arms.  The dark

messier 66_40seczoom_Red
M66 red filter

areas are full of gas or dust, blocking most of the star light.  This gas and dust is slowly clumping into spinning clouds and some f those clouds are collapsing into stars and possibly planetary systems.

M66, shown here, has more gas and dust than its companion.  The dark streaks, almost as if someone drew lines using a fine point marker, are these gas and dust lanes.  M66 is also slightly brighter, wider but shorter than M65.

I took three different images of M66 Saturday, March 12, 2016 between 21:23 and 21:26 EST.  I used three different filters, wondering which would show the gas and dust lanes best.  What do you think?  Which filter works best for you in showing the gas and dust lanes of in my images of M66?

You may also see a difference in the images of stars and the spiral arms  depending on the filter?

Eventually I plan to learn how to stack my images to create a color photograph.

NGC3628 is the third of this galactic group that’s more than just visibly close together.  While the galaxies are about 35 million light years from Earth, they are gravitationally interacting with one another, giving each a distorted, wave-like appearance.  The are listed as #308 in the Voronstov-Velyanikov catalog of interacting galaxies.

Located on the Jamestown (NC) campus of Guilford Technical Community College (GTCC), Cline Observatory is open to the public every clear Friday night.  During DST, hours are from dark:30 for two hours.  Please do not bring white flashlights or turn on your cell phone in the observatory.  The white light is a destroyer of night vision.

For more information see the Observatory web site at



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