Abell 1656


After I found Pluto, I realized that I could photograph small objects at long distances.  I had already made a nice photograph of the Antennae Galaxy [NGC4038] during my galaxy hunting.  I have been into this avocation now for nearly 6 months and I have become comfortable with my abilities to move the telescope to a pin-point position in the night sky, to track objects once acquired, and to produce reasonable quality CCD images.  The text around finding M-51 {in Galaxies} showed my initial success, the finding Pluto text {in Planets} my increasing knowledge and the Telescope Movements text {in Equipment} my increasing level of technical capability.  NGC4038 was a magnitude 10.3 galaxy at 83 Million Light years.  To find really deep-sky objects I would need to use the accurate telescope movement capabilities as well as the astrometric measurement techniques that I previously described.  How deep can I go with my equipment?


I did some quick research about distant objects in book called “The Backyard Astronomer’s Guide” by Terence Dickinson & Alan Dyer. They talked about obtaining rich but fainter galaxy clusters.  The Coma Berenices galaxy cluster, MSA#653 (Abell1656), was recommended as a good place to start.  “Because of their great distance, each [cluster] is contained within an area only one or two degrees at most.  Often, the entire cluster [of galaxies] can be seen in one field as a collection of faint, ill-defined smudges.”


The brightest members of MSA#653 are two 12th magnitude galaxies, NGC4874 and NGC4889.  Surrounding these two galaxies are other 13th-16th magnitude galaxies.  The minimum required aperture according to Dickinson and Dyer is 5 inches.  I had to see for myself if I could find, track and photograph a cluster of galaxies (not stars) that are 350 Million Light Years from Earth. This is 2.1*10^21 miles [2.1 Sextillion miles].  Said differently, the light that I captured in my CCD chips on 7/7/2005 started traveling towards earth 350 million years before the moment that I stood at the end of my driveway to capture these photons of light.  I was looking back into time a long way.




The Corona Borealis Cluster (MSA#646; Abell2065) would be the distance record-holder for amateur astronomers at over 1 Billion Light Years.  At over 400 times the distance of the Andromeda Galaxy, Abell2065 is the “edge of the backyard astronomer’s universe.”  I have not yet tried to find it.



July 8, 2005