A stunning island universe

Grab your binoculars to view a beautiful island universe on the next clear night, writes Ian Griffin.

At the end of June, I'm departing on an astronomical adventure. I'm heading to Oeno Island (part of Pitcairn Islands Overseas Territory) to view a total solar eclipse on July 2.

With luck, and if weather conditions allow, along with 10 other keen eclipse-chasers, I will land on this remote coral atoll.

Beginning at 10.24am local time, the sun will be covered entirely by the moon for nearly three minutes. I'm very excited about this trip and promise to report back in a future column.

In the run-up to my eclipse pursuit, I have been testing equipment, to make sure it is in tip-top condition. One key piece of kit is a tracking platform, a device which keeps cameras accurately pointing at the sun.

As tracking platforms work just as well at night as during the day (and because it will be very dark during the eclipse!) I have been testing my tracking platform together with the camera and telescope I plan to use during the eclipse by taking pictures of some of my favourite ''island universes'' or galaxies.

One of these is so beautiful I want to encourage you to try to find it on the next clear night. You will need a pair of binoculars as this galaxy can't be seen with the naked eye.

Messier 83 (M83) was the 83rd item in a catalogue of celestial objects compiled by the astronomer and comet-hunter Charles Messier. Photographs reveal it to be a beautiful spiral galaxy, and astronomers estimate that it is 15 million light years from Earth.

Located in the constellation of Hydra, the water snake, M83 is high overhead early in the night. As our chart shows, the Pointers and the Southern Cross can be used as useful jumping-off points in your search for this distant galaxy.

Through binoculars, the galaxy is visible as a dim fuzzy circular patch of light roughly half the size of the full moon. It is easiest to see during the dark of the moon, although I have personally seen it even when the moon is at first quarter.


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