Nightscapes & Deep Sky Colors

Astrophotography Brian A. Morganti

M81 Bode's Galaxy

M82 Cigar Galaxy

Ursa Major



M81 (right) is also known as Bode's Galaxy and M82 (left) also known as the Cigar Galaxy are a pair of interacting galaxies that lie approximately 12 million light-years from Earth.  These two galaxies are now moving apart, but about 20 million years ago had a close encounter that dramatically deformed M82 and created the "red burst", a star forming region. 

The Cigar Galaxy (Messier 82 or NGC 3034) is the starburst galaxy on the left. Bode's proximity to Earth, its large size, relatively high brightness (apparent magnitude 6.94), and its active galactic nucleus, which is home to a supermassive black hole, make it a popular target for both professional and amateur astronomers alike. Just below Bode's Galaxy, at a distance of 12 million light-years away, is a dwarf irregular galaxy with an apparent magnitude of 16.5 known as Holmberg IX and is a satellite galaxy of Bode's. Holmberg IX was named after Erik Holmberg who was the first to describe it. This galaxy is thought to have formed within the last 200 million years, making it the youngest nearby galaxy. Although the Cigar galaxy, with an apparent magnitude of 8.41, is dimmer than Bode's, it is five times as bright as our entire Milky Way and one hundred times as bright as our galaxy's center. M82's classification as a starburst galaxy means it is in the process of an exceptionally high rate of star formation, so much so, that in 2005, the Hubble Space Telescope revealed 197 young massive clusters in its starburst core. M82 was discovered along with M81 on December 31, 1774 by Johann Elert Bode. Pierre Mechain rediscovered the pair as nebulous patches in August 1779 and reported them to Charles Messier who later added them to his catalog on February 9, 1781. Halton Arp has included M82 in his Catalogue of Peculiar Galaxies as No. 337.

A 12 million light years distance, the nearby proximity of this galaxy pair make them one of the most beautiful sights in the spring sky!


  • Date & Location:  January 29, 2012 - Bernville, PA

  • Weather:  Light winds, Temperature range 36F to 32F. 17F dewpoint

  • Sky Conditions:  Mostly clear with above average transparency. 

  • SQM-L: Average 20.49 start - 20.60 finish

  • Optics:  TeleVue NP101is Refractor with focal reducer (432mm f4.3)

  • Filter:  Hutech IDAS-LPS (Light Pollution Suppression)

  • Mount:  AstroPhysics AP900GTO

  • Guiding:  Orion SSAG

  • Camera:  Canon T1i Hap Griffin modified

  • Exposure:  13 - 10 minute subs @ ISO800 -  total 130 minutes

  • Calibration Frames:  Master Dark & Bias 40F

  • Processing:  Images Plus 3.82, PS CS4, Noise Ninja, GradientXTerminator, NIK 

  • Comments:  These objects resolved rather well for a small scope given the above average transparency when imaged near the meridian.  I'll likely try this pair of galaxies again with a longer focal length and more sub-exposures to see what additional detail can be extracted.



Astrophotography  -  Nightscapes & Deep Sky Colors