Updated: Apr 28
Featured on The Astrophotographer's Guidebook.
AAPOD Aster Academy Astronomy image of the day 01/29/2018
Featured on the cover of The Astrophotographer's Journal.
The Andromeda Galaxy, along with M32 and M110, two dwarf galaxies orbiting M31, is by far the easiest galaxy to image for beginners!
Below is our main photograph of the Andromeda Galaxy, taken with a Canon t3i and a total exposure time of 5.5 hours.
Because of its diameter of more than six times that of the Moon, we recommend imaging this target with an 8 inches or smaller telescope, as the galaxy will not fit completely in the frame if using a larger instrument (unless doing a mosaic).
Scroll down for all the details as well as the Wide-Field version!
Camera: Canon T3i (600D)
Telescope: Orion 8" Astrograph f/3.9
Mount: Atlas EQ-G motorized Mount
Total Exposure Time: 5.5 hours
Locating the Andromeda Galaxy
Called The Great Andromeda Nebula until his galactic nature was recognized in the 1920s, the spiral Andromeda Galaxy is the closest galaxy from the Milky Way, and the largest one in our Local Group. It is believed to contain about a thousand billion stars.
The Andromeda galaxy will collide with ours in about 3.75 billion years.
The Andromeda Galaxy is one of the few galaxies visible to the naked eye from Earth in the Northern hemisphere. It is also one of the biggest objects in the night sky.
M31 lies between the Great Pegasus Square and Cassiopeia, and the easiest way to find it is to first locate Pegasus’ square. Once you do, look for the corner closest to Cassiopeia’s “W” shape and jump to the first, then second star out of that corner. That second star should be the bright Mirach. Finally, do the same double jump, but at a 90 degree angle up this time, and you will find yourself staring at the brightest galaxy in the Messier catalog.
Note that viewing this target with binoculars or a telescope will also reveal its satellite galaxy: M110! You may also observe M32, but it will most likely not be visible as it is washed in M31’s gases.
Wide-Field capture of M31
If unsure how to approach this target, it is a good idea to simply attach your DSLR camera to a sky tracker and photograph it wide-field. The good thing about that is that you don't need to worry too much about centering the galaxy, and you can also get M33, the Triangulum Galaxy in the same frame!
The image below was taken with a simple 50mm lens attached on a Canon t3i, with exposures of 3 minutes for 4 hours. We use an iOptron Skytracker in order to be able to do 3 minutes of exposure without star trails.
Camera: Canon T3i (600D)
Lens: Canon 50mm f/1.8
Mount: iOptron Skytracker
Total Exposure Time: 4 hours
Single Shot & Processing of M31
For such a huge target, the editing process can be pretty vicious, due to the lack of actual space and black around the gases of the galaxy, so do not underestimate the editing process of the Andromeda Galaxy.
Using Both images, through the telescope and Wide field, were processed with Pixinsight. It was a lot of trial and error, I knew I had enough data for a very good image, and all the single shots (see below) looked very promising! Still, we had to start over several times as we were not pleased with the result. It is not until we found an amazing processing tutorial by Light Vortex Astronomy (which you can read HERE) that we ended up with an image we loved.
As for the wide field version, the only challenge is to get both M31 and M33 without blowing out the core of one or the other (if you decided to center your camera so that you can capture both in the same frame). Except that, it does not really present any other difficulty.
You can get our full PixInsight workflow as a PDF "follow along" file HERE.
Comparing our shot of the Andromeda Galaxy with the first image every taken, 128 years prior
It’s been cloudy for some time now so I decided to put together a comparison image of two photos taken of the Andromeda Galaxy, 128 years apart.
The one on the left was taken four days after Christmas on December 29, 1888 by Isaac Roberts. This was the very first image ever taken of Messier 31, which was thought to be a nebula within our Milky Way galaxy. This was also the first time we realized M31 had a spiral structure.
The telescope he used was a 20” reflector made by Howard Grubb. To be honest this is very nice looking image which would have definitely deserved to be APOD back in 1888!
I remembered that we took an image that had a similar framing and angle back in 2016. You can see it on the right. The telescope used was an 8” (reflector as well), the Orion 8” Astrograph which is a level entry, under $500 telescope. The camera used was an old Canon T3i, unmodified. You can see the other acquisition details on our main image at the beginning of this post.
This comparison is fascinating. In both images you can see two of M31’s satellite galaxies, M32 (top left) and M110 (bottom right).
All our versions of M31
Below are all of our versions of M31, which all lead to gains of experience and upgrading our equipment in order to be able to capture our current main image of the Andromeda Galaxy, visible in the bottom right.
Galactic Hunter Episode #4 - The Andromeda Galaxy
The Andromeda Galaxy was the star of one of our episodes of Galactic Hunter! Here is the full episode below.
The Andromeda Galaxy is the most impressive, and best galaxy to capture for any amateur astrophotographer. M31 makes a great image when photographed through both telescopes and wide field. You will also be able to get two extra Messier objects: M32 and M110!
If you would like to get our image as a print or other, you can support us and see some options HERE
Antoine & Dalia Grelin
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