Physics Photo of the Week

May 14, 2010

Galaxy Gallery - Photos and Discussion by Raya Cooper and Chelsea Gandy

M108 - Raya Cooper
M51 - Chelsea Gandy
M106 - Chelsea Gandy

We obtained these photographs by taking
about 60 exposures for 30 sec through red, green and blue filters on our portable telescope behind the Spidel Math, Physics, and Economics building at WWC.  The camera is a CCD camera - an astronomical digital camera. We then processed the images by stacking all the images of each color. We then combined the three colors and adjusted the color balance to create accurate color rendition.

Messier 108 is an edge on barred spiral galaxy in the constellation Ursa Major, near the bottom star across from the handle of the Big Dipper. It is a distant member of the Virgo Super Cluster of galaxies. M108 has an estimated mass of over 125 billion times the mass of the sun and includes over 200 globular clusters. At the center of the galaxy is a super massive black hole estimated to be 24 million times the mass of the sun. The galaxy has no pronounced central bulge or core.  Dusty spiral arms composed of many Hydrogen Alpha regions of star forming nebula heavily obscure the axis.  First discovered in 1781 by Pierre Méchain, this object was added to Messier’s catalogue in 1953. - R. C.

M51 and its companion are a galaxy pair 31 million light years away. One can find M51 in the night sky near the big dipper’s handle with a small telescope. The larger is NCG 5194 and the smaller is NCG  5195. The blue color of the spiral arms  indicates the presence of young stars.  One can observe from this picture how the smaller galaxy has disrupted the larger’s spiral arms. This disturbance was effected over the course of millions of years.

M106 is a galaxy 20 to 25 million light years distant. It is thought that matter from the galaxy is being sucked into a super massive black hole, due to the observed emission lines and x-rays. - C. G

Raya Cooper and Chelsea Gandy recently completed a second course in Astronomy at Warren Wilson College.  Raya is graduating this weekend with a major in Outdoor Leadership.  Chelsea is a rising senior majoring in Mathematics and minoring in Creative Writing.  Both these students completed extensive research projects in this course.

This is the last Physics Photo of the Week due to summer vacation.  Physics Photo of the Week will resume on Friday, August 27, 2010 - D. C.

Physics Photo of the Week is published weekly during the academic year on Fridays by the Warren Wilson College Physics Department.  These photos feature interesting phenomena in the world around us.  Students, faculty, and others are invited to submit digital (or film) photographs for publication and explanation.  Atmospheric phenomena are especially welcome.  Please send any photos to 

All photos and discussions are copyright by Donald Collins or by the person credited for the photo and/or discussion.  These photos and discussions may be used for private individual use or educational use.  Any commercial use without written permission of the photoprovider is forbidden.

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