Beauty and Drama at 480 Million Light-Years

I set a personal record the morning of April 2: the farthest named object that I have photographed, at an estimated distance of 480 million light-years.
From an Emery County site, I made a black-and-white view of Copeland’s Septet, a small and faint group of galaxies in the constellation Leo. This is the best season for galaxy-photography, as many beautiful individuals and clusters of galaxies become visible in spring.
My telescope tracked Copeland’s Septet during several five-minute exposures. Five of the images were usable, taken before the group dropped so close to the horizon that they became blurred by the thicker atmosphere.

[My view of Copeland’s Septet, cumulative exposure 25 minutes. For a larger image click HERE]
A British astronomer, Ralph Copeland, discovered the group in 1874. The galaxies are tightly bunched; some are merging.
According to Kopernik Observatory in Vestal, N.Y., Copeland probably made the discovery while using the six-foot-diameter “Leviathan of Parsonstown” telescope at Birr Castle, Ireland. “This speculum mirror telescope, built by Lord Rosse, enabled Copeland to observe this cluster with relative ease,” the site adds.
For those with telescopes considerably smaller than 72 inches across, members of the cluster are not easy to observe.
Also known as Hickson 57 and Arp 320, the galaxies range in brightness from magnitude 13.6 to an ultra-dim barred spiral measured at magnitude 17.4. The last apparently was not observed by Copeland but makes up the eighth member of the “septet.”
In Hickson’s Catalogue, assembled by Canadian astronomer Paul Hickson, this galaxy is designated “57h” for the eighth in the cluster.
In 2005 Norwegian amateurs detected a supernova in NGC3746, the galaxy in the cluster that is clearly a face-on spiral. The friends were staying a few days at an cabin with an observatory at Vegglifjell , Norway. Mikkel Steine described the find this way, as posted on the web site Messier45.com:
“On Friday April 1st weather looked promising and we prepared for a night of photographing and testing of this new equipment. On our plan were several galaxies with known supernovae in them. A lot of focusing and testing was done and then we started the real photographing. There was something slightly wrong with the tracking, but the system delivered nice results nonetheless. The last series of images were taken by Stle Kildahl and Arne Danielsen around midnight local summer time (22:05 UT) of Copeland’s Septet in Leo. Clouds moved in and we went to bed.
“Saturday the Sun was shining and a lot of H-alpha [solar] observing and photographing was done. Around mid-day we decided it was time we went ahead with the astrophotography workshop we had planned and a projector and large screen was erected and the images from Friday night was shown. The last image show was that of Copeland’s Septet, and immediately a tiny speck of light in one of the arms of NGC 3746 intrigued me. I brought up the false colour DSS image I had made a few days earlier of this same group and found that it was not on DSS. Could it be…?”
They checked the Rochester Astronomy Club’s postings of known supernovas and did not find anything recent for the galaxy. By the following Monday the supernova was confirmed by observatories.
Kopernik Observatory posted this VIEW that it took of the “septet” when the supernova was visible. Galaxies and the 2005 supernova are labeled, and the picture is in negative form so the features are easier to see.
“It was really a team effort, this discovery,” Steine added. “Stle Kildahl and Arne Danielsen were credited because they took the actual image, and I because I first noticed the tiny speck. The rest of the group were (alphabetically) Ole-Bjrn Fogth, Stig Foss, Geir Hagabrten, Gitte Rydberg Steine and yvind Tangen.”
Earlier this month, no supernovas startled me. But simply to photograph an interesting cluster so far away was a thrill.

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