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Bringing the Universe to Your Classroom!

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Messier 63 - The Sunflower Galaxy

As the spring night sky looms overhead, there are a plethora of galaxies and galaxy clusters for targeting with the Astronomical Telescopes for Educational Outreach (ATEO) at Insight Observatory. One such galaxy is Messier 63, the "Sunflower Galaxy" located in the constellation Canes Venatici. One of Insight Observatory's Starbase dataset subscribers, Utkarsh Mishra, processed roughly 10 hours (color) and 6 hours (monochrome) of data integration of the galaxy acquired by ATEO-1, the 16" f/3.7 Astrograph reflector located in New Mexico. Utkarsh's processed image of Messier 63 is one of the best we at Insight Observatory has ever seen. We were very excited to see his final processed color and monochrome images of the galaxy. It is the first time an image from ATEO-1 has been processed with so many integration hours.

Color LRGB image of Messier 63, The Sunflower Galaxy - 10 hours of data from ATEO-1 processed by Utkarsh Mishra.
Color LRGB image of Messier 63, The Sunflower Galaxy - 10 hours of data from ATEO-1 processed by Utkarsh Mishra.

Although M63 only has two spiral arms, many appear to be winding around its yellow core. The spiral arms shine with the radiation from recently formed blue stars and can be more clearly seen in infrared observations. By imaging flocculent spiral galaxies like M63, astronomers hope to gain a better understanding of how stars form in such systems.

Messier 63 or M63, also known as NGC 5055 was discovered in 1779 by the French astronomer Pierre Méchain and was the first of 24 objects that Méchain would contribute to Charles Messier’s catalog. The galaxy is located roughly 27 million light-years from Earth. It has an apparent magnitude of 9.3 and appears as a faint patch of light in small telescopes. The best time to observe this galaxy is during the month of May.

Monochrome Luminance image of Messier 63, The Sunflower Galaxy - 6 hours of data from ATEO-1 processed by Utkarsh Mishra.
Monochrome Luminance image of Messier 63, The Sunflower Galaxy - 6 hours of data from ATEO-1 processed by Utkarsh Mishra.

In 1971, a supernova with a magnitude of 11.8 appeared in one of the arms of M63. It was discovered May 24, 1971, and reached peak light around May 26. The spectrum of SN 1971 I is consistent with a supernova of type I. However, the spectroscopic behavior appeared anomalous.

Sources: NASA.gov and Wikipedia

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