Shooting the Leo Triplet

“[Real scientists are delighted when they find out they are wrong. And to me that is one of the greatest gifts that a scientific education can bring.] There are too many people in this world who want to be right. And too few who just want to know.”
― Brian Cox, Forces of Nature

One DSO (deep space object) that I’ve always been fascinated with is the triplet of galaxies in the constellation Leo. Unsurprisingly, this is known as the Leo Triplet. The reason I’ve been interested in this one is because it’s in my own astrological constellation, even though conventional wisdom is that astronomy and astrology don’t mix. Although partly true, actual ancient astrology firmly has its roots in astronomy, and the real reason it doesn’t, in my opinion, is that modern commercial horoscope astrology bears little resemblance to its older form. The horoscopes of today do very little, if anything, to help this.

Astrology, in its broadest sense is our attempt to find reason and meaning in the stars and planets through their movements and influence on human behaviour. In fact, up until the 17th century, astrology was very much a scholarly matter and actually helped greatly in driving forward the development of astronomy. However, with the advancement of more scientific methodology and thinking, astrology lost its standing and over time has become more known as a pseudoscience, and lost its older academic status.

The oldest, undisputed, records of astrology date back to the First Dynasty in Mesopotamia, between roughly 1950 to 1651 BC. By the third millennium BC many civilisations had developed quite sophisticated awareness of the celestial cycles and made conscious efforts to orientate their temples with the annual risings of the stars and planets.

There is a great deal of ancient history and wisdom in astrology and astronomy alike, both of which make for some truly fascinating reading, and I can only encourage you to look more into both disciplines, especially where they intertwine and crossover. My own belief, and I realise that this may well be scoffed at by my peers, is that there is much knowledge that has been lost over time, and that although science seeks to explain everything, and in fairness it does explain much, it doesn’t leave much room for belief in anything outside itself. True science, ACTUAL science, to my mind at least, means that you’re prepared to suspend your own belief system. Science is never “settled.” It is constantly searching, always evolving. As the quote by Professor Cox aludes to above, how can a scientist be happy if they think they have all the answers? The WHOLE POINT of science is to constantly ask questions.

Our ancient ancestors knew much that has been lost, and I for one find this especially tragic as they were much more in tune with the natural world on a spiritual level than we are today, especially in the west. In fact, I find that the western arrogance of dismissing much that is not based in “science” means we have lost as much knowledge as we have allegedly gained, and that true knowledge, and wisdom, lays somewhere in between. And this is where the suspension of one’s belief comes into play. Just because science is unable to answer a question, or explain something at this point in time, it doesn’t follow that it never will. It just doesn’t have the answer YET. Can science explain spiritialism? Can it explain consciousness? Not right now, no. But you speak to the ancient tribes, those who have more of a connection with the natural world, and they will speak of things as old as humankind itself that science is currently unable to explain. Should these be dismissed just because we can’t explain them with mathematical equations and formulae at this moment?

With the above in mind, there’s something a bit special for me personally when it comes to imaging the Leo Triplet. Much like the Pillars of Creation, I often feel what can best be described as a “calling.” Whether that is a spiritual calling or merely identifying more with this particular constellation or deep space object, I can’t honestly say. But I do feel that calling nonetheless.

Although I have made several attempts at the triplet, none has been especially good, and that is in main down to the fact I have a tendency to “hop” targets. What this means is that I have previously gone for quantity over quality. Which is great if you want to tick boxes on how many different deep space objects you’ve imaged. But not so great if you want that image that looks mind-blowing. Lesson learned.

The image below represents this years sessions on the triplet, a total of 155 minutes worth of data across three nights. Although I’m seeing more detail than in previous versions, and in fairness I’m happy with how it looks considering the limited time, it still needs more integration, or exposure, time.

I shall doubtless return to the triplet next season, but for now, I hope you enjoy the image. Thank you for reading, and clear skies all!

The Leo Triplet, taken with the 72ED and ASI178MC mounted on the Star Adventurer. 155 mins across 3 nights

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