Category Galaxies

The Evolution of the Andromeda Galaxy

Evolution of Andomeda

While the Andromeda Galaxy (M31) has been evolving for the last 9 Billion years, my tenure as an Astrophotographer has only been evolving for the last 1.5 years.  I got the Astrophotography bug when I first snapped a photo of the Moon back on April 7, 2012.  Fast forward to August 2012 where I took my first deep sky image of the Andromeda Galaxy with my Nikon D7000 DSLR through a Takahahshi Sky90 telescope.  I remember being blown away by being able to “see” light from galaxies millions of light years away.  Ever since then, I possessed the desire to learn everything I can about astro imaging.  After shooting deep sky objects (DSO’s) with a digital camera for a few months, I wanted to learn how to shoot with a CCD (Charge-Couple Device), which is a specialized camera for Astrophotography.  I purchased a used SBIG ST-2000XM CCD with a 5 position filter wheel that had Luminance, Red, Green, Blue, and a Hydrogen Alpha filter in it so I could teach myself techniques to get even more detail out of the DSO’s I was shooting.  After I got over a steep learning curve, I was able to work on one very important principle, which was quality over quantity.  With Astrophotography, you need to invest a great deal of time taking multiple exposures to bring out the detail in the amazing objects that are out in space.  This principle is evident in the 4 images of the Andromeda Galaxy that span 1.25 years of learning how to image objects I can’t see with my own eyes...

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Testing Out the SBIG ST-2000XM CCD on M31

ST-2000XM CCD
15 Minute Luminance Exposure

The last few nights have been crystal clear, which gave me a great opportunity to test out my latest purchase (used of course).  I bought a 10 year old SBIG ST-2000xm, which is a  CCD (“Charged Coupled Device”) camera and is strictly used for Astrophotography.  The image above is a 15 minute (L) exposure.  I have not learned the art of stacking multiple images yet but the theory behind image stacking is the more images you stack, the more you increase the signal and decrease the noise.  There is so much more detail that I am lacking as just taking a single exposure in Lumiance, I am missing the Red, Green, and Blue (RGB) color spectrum.

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Deer Lick Galaxy Group NGC 7331

Deer Lick Galaxy Group NGC7331

Deer Lick Galaxy Group NGC7331

I was out on August 28, 2012 shooting various objects in the night sky when I found out that I could view the Deer Lick Galaxy Group from my backyard.  At a mere 49 million lightyears away, this is the furthest deep sky object I have photographed so far.  This is not the greatest shot but you can see the largest Galaxy in the group.  The exposure was not long enough to capture light from the other Galaxies so I will have to revisit this one.

The Deer Lick Galaxy Group was coined by Tom Lorenzin (author of “1000+ The Amateur Astronomers’ Field Guide to Deep Sky Observing”) to honor Deer Lick Gap in the mountains of North Carolina, from which he had especially fine views of the galaxy group.

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Lost Under the Stars with the Whirpool Galaxy, Andromeda, and Vega

Last night, I was out in my backyard getting lost in the night.  It was a crystal clear night and the Moon was reflecting a lot of light since it was almost full.  Not a great night to shoot objects in the sky due to the Moon’s light pollution but that did not stop me.  Here are some of the pictures I took the night of August 28, 2012:

In hopes of catching the Whirlpool Galaxy before it set behind the trees in my backyard, I took this image and happened to capture the Galaxy between the trees.

The Andromeda Galaxy rises above the trees in my backyard from 10:15pm on through the night. I love capturing this Galaxy.

Vega is the brightest star in the constellation Lyra, the fifth brightest star in the night sky and the second brightest star in the northern celestial hemisphere, after Arcturus. It is a relatively close star at only 25 light-years from Earth, and, together with Arcturus and Sirius, one of the most luminous stars in the Sun’s neighborhood.

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Andromeda, Our Closest Spiral Neighbor Galaxy

On August 15th and 16th, I went out to test out a guidescope and reshoot some of the objects I have photographed in the last few weeks. I was out for a couple hours and was about to pack up my telescope and bring it inside when something told me to slew to M31, the Andromeda Galaxy, to see if it was visible from my backyard. After dialing in the coordinates, I patiently waited for the gears on the mount to come to a grinding halt. After pressing my remote shutter release for a 4 minute exposure on my DSLR, Andromeda revealed itself!

Andromeda Galaxy: August 16, 2012; 90 sec exposure; Nikon D7000; Tak Sky 90II

Andromeda Galaxy: August 16, 2012; 90 sec exposure; Nikon D7000; Tak Sky 90II

At a mind boggling distance of 2.3 million light-years, the Andromeda galaxy (also called M31) is the closest and brightest spiral galaxy to our Milky Way, but not the closest galaxy! The Milky Way is also a spiral galaxy which, spiral being the operative word, makes Andromeda the closest mirror of ourselves. The Canis Major Dwarf Galaxy, which is about 42,000 light years from the galactic center of our Milky Way, and a mere 25,000 light years from us (read more here: Universe Today), takes the award for being the closet galaxy!

As I was looking through my photos, I noticed an long white streak running through one of my images.  Upon further investigation, this appears to be a Satellite that just happened to cross the field of the view of the telescope.

Andromeda Galaxy: August 16, 2012; 90 sec exposure; Nikon D7000; Tak Sky 90II

Andromeda Galaxy: August 16, 2012; 90 sec exposure; Nikon D7000; Tak Sky 90II

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