Distant giant: The Pinwheel galaxy

pinwheel-galaxy-messier-101The short nights of spring reveal a view unobstructed by the Milky Way, with slim pickings for wide-angle astrophotography. But there are some distant giants to be seen. The Pinwheel galaxy is one of them.

The massive galaxy stretches 180,000 light-years edge to edge. Despite this vast size, the face-on nature of the galaxy, and the huge distance, make it a appear quite dim. The combined light of a trillion suns barely registering on the 30 second exposures. The combined time of 30 minutes in the stacked image above reveals more…

The spiral structure of the galaxy, and the many bright nebulous regions within can be seen. Also revealed are dozens of the smaller galaxies residing in the area. Alhough these can be tricky to distinguish from the bloated stars, a problem made worse by the stacking process.

The full image below shows how tiny the Pinwheel galaxy appears in the frame of the 180mm lens. Not quite up to Hubble deep field standards, but not bad for a regular camera and home-made tracker!

Messier 101 the Pinwheel GalaxyImage details: Nikon D7000Nikkor 180mm f2.8 at f2.8. 30 minutes (60 x 30 seconds) at iso 800 using didymium filter. Stacked with Deep Sky Stacker and tracked with barn door tracker.


  1. Ulaş KARSAN Reply

    I think, your photos are excellent, with 180mm F2.8 and no motorized barn door tracker!

    • Nick Reply

      Many thanks Ulaş, glad you like them. You have some stunning planet images on your blog, and Turkey looks beautiful too!

  2. Paul Falco Reply

    Love the site and you have put together some wonderful imagery. What is the scale of Light Pollution you deal with?

    • Nick Reply

      Thanks Paul. I have pretty bad pollution. Most of the photos were taken from a yellow area on this map. It doesn’t help being at sea level either. But I try to get out to a green, or light blue area for fainter objects. The didymium filter also works wonders for reducing sodium light pollution.

  3. Ralph Reply

    This is very nice work and I very much like your approach to astro photography. It is the same as mine: No telescopes, minimalistic equipment, nevertheless impressive results. Of cause not comparable with the “bigger players”. But self-made and showing what is possible with commitment.
    Over the time I accumultated some more photo equipment and a simple tracking mount and of cause this shows a bit. But when I see your history of photos and tools I recognize mine and I can very well judge what you have achieved.
    I very much like your site, unfortunately I never managed to build one.

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