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Astrophotography: Markarian’s Chain in Virgo Cluster

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Markarian’s Chain is an impressive photography subject for those with a camera and telescope to capture it.  This string of 7 distinct galaxies is a member of the Virgo Cluster and epitomizes the types of astrophotography subjects available during galaxy season.


On Friday Night (Good Friday), I was spoiled with a second consecutive clear night sky.  The moon would rise above the horizon by 11:30 pm, so I had a few hours of moonless imaging time to squeeze in.

Markarian’s Chain is a prominent feature within the impressive Virgo Cluster of galaxies.  M87 is the brightest member of the group, a very large elliptical galaxy.

My final image of Markarian’s Chain included 2 hours and 10 minutes of total integrated exposure time.  To see a larger version of the image with complete photography details, continue down this post.


For a run-down of the processing steps used, have a look at my tutorial on deep-sky image processing in photoshop.

Astrophotography during a Waning Gibbous Moon


With a nearly full moon traveling across the ecliptic, deep-sky astrophotography becomes a lot more challenging.  Couple this with my lack of any filters for the ASI071, and you’ve got a difficult imaging session ahead.


Luckily, the Virgo Cluster of galaxies including Markarian’s chain showcases many interesting, yet mostly featureless objects.  A forgiving target for imaging conditions such as this.


Usually, when the moon is out, I’ll capture H-Alpha data using my Canon T3i and Astronomik 12 Ha filter.  However, my previous attempts at capturing Ha on a small galaxy (The Pinwheel Galaxy) proved to be of limited value.

I think I’ll save the Ha capturing for some of the Nebulae that will be gracing our night sky in the coming months.  For now, I’ll focus on collecting RGB frames using the OSC (One shot color) ASI071 camera when moonlight is limited.


I can only hope that the clear skies continue as we near closer to the weeks on either side of the new moon.


Using the CMOS sensor Cooled camera


The ZWO ASI071MC-Cool remains in my procession for the time being, and I couldn’t be happier.  Spending time with this camera has allowed me to further familiarize myself with the CCD imaging process and software such as Sequence Generator Pro.


If you are transitioning from a DSLR camera, I think you’ll find that the AS071 is a big improvement.  I’ve been cooling the camera to -40 degrees when shooting targets in my backyard, and the images produced are virtually noise-free.


The camera has some pretty neat features including a built in anti-dew heater window heater, that can be turned on and off.  I haven’t had to use the feature yet, but I have a feeling it will come in handy during the summer months.

Markarian’s Chain: String of Galaxies in the Virgo Cluster


This area is considered to be the core of the Virgo Supercluster, and is a truly spectacular sight.


The Virgo cluster contains some serious astronomy eye-candy.  The sheer number of galaxies in this area of the sky is staggering.  If you are looking for a deep-sky view at the Universe, you’ve found it.


Markarian’ Chain – April 14-15, 2017


Markarian’s Chain – Wide Field ViIew through the ES ED102


Photo Details:


Total Exposure: 2 Hours, 10 Minutes

Image Frames: 26 x 300

Support Files: 15 Darks, 15 Flats


Camera: ASI071MC-Cool (Color)

Telescope: Explore Scientific ED102 CF

Mount: Sky-Watcher HEQ5 Pro SynScan

Guide Scope: Starwave 50mm

Guide Camera: Altair Astro GPCAM2 AR0130


Image Aquisition in Sequence Generator Pro

Registering and Stacking in DeepSkyStacker

Post Processing in Adobe Photoshop CC

The Virgo Cluster is the closest cluster of galaxies to our own Milky Way. Markarian’s Chain appears to form an arc pattern, with 7 or more galaxies making up the formation.


M84, M86, and M87 are the largest galaxies of the group, cataloged by Charles Messier.  The galaxies may appear small, but each of them contains more than 400 billion stars or more.


Go ahead and explore this amazing area in detail. Click here for a large version of the image.