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Messier 33 - The Triangulum Galaxy | DSLR & OSC Astrophotography

Updated: May 18, 2023

The Triangulum Galaxy is a bright spiral galaxy in the constellation Triangulum. It is one of the most popular objects for beginner amateur astrophotographers.


Object Designation: M33

Also known as: The Triangulum Galaxy

Constellation: Triangulum

Object type: Spiral Galaxy

Distance: 2,300,000 light-years away

Magnitude: 5.7

Discovered in: 1764


Like the Andromeda Galaxy, the Triangulum Galaxy is visible with the naked eye, in extremely dark skies far from any light pollution. As we explained in Episode 4 of Galactic Hunter, the Andromeda galaxy is doomed to crash with our own, the Milky Way. M33's fate is no better. The Triangulum galaxy will get stuck in the gravitational pull of the impact, and orbit the new Milkomeda until finally crashing into it. In the end, our Milky Way, the Andromeda galaxy, and the Triangulum galaxy... will only be one.


Messier 33 astrophotography QHY128C

M33 is the second apparent largest, and brightest galaxy to photograph in the night sky. 

The Triangulum galaxy fits perfectly in a telescope that has a focal length of 800mm (see photos below) and a good result can be achieved with just 1-3 hours of exposure depending on the camera. We recommend doing 5+ minute exposures in order to capture faint details, including the huge NGC 604 in one of the spiral arms of M33.


 

The Triangulum Galaxy with a Cooled One-Shot-Color (OSC) Camera

July 20, 2020


Almost four years later, in July 2020, we took a trip to Landers, CA to visit the OPTeam. You can watch our fun video about that weekend HERE.

Landers has a very similar light pollution level as our usual imaging spot from our first attempt (Bortle 3 to Bortle 4) and we used the exact same telescope to capture Messier 33 again!

The main difference here was the camera. Instead of using our Canon 7D Mark II DSLR camera, we used the QHY128C which is a cooled One-Shot-Color camera. We unboxed and reviewed this camera on our YouTube channel and show you a lot of images taken with it!


We did not process the data for a while, as we only had a few frames on that target. We decided to take a few more from our usual imaging location when we were back in Las Vegas. We recorded that part for the Galactic Course, where the second segment of Season 1 is all about imaging a galaxy with a reflector telescope and a cooled One-Shot-Color camera!


As you can see in the image below, the result is fantastic! What blew my mind is the fact that this was only 70 minutes of total exposure, while our image with a DSLR camera was more than 3 hours!


M33 - the Triangulum Galaxy

GEAR USED:

Camera: QHYCCD 128C

Processing: Pixinsight

ACQUISITION DETAILS:

Total Exposure Time: 1 hours and 10 minutes

Exposure Time per frame: 600 seconds

Gain: 3200


I processed this data using the workflow described in our basic PixInsight Processing Guide, which is available for download! Make sure to check out our Advanced version as well!


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The Triangulum Galaxy with an Unmodified DSLR Camera

November 2016


In 2016, we imaged Messier 33 with our new unmodified DSLR camera: the Canon 7D Mark II. We spent three hours capturing this object from a Bortle 4 zone and, on the same night, recorded Episode 5 of Galactic Hunter! Make sure to watch the video to see exactly how we photographed this target from start to finish!


M33 the Triangulum Galaxy astrophotography using an unmodified DSLR camera and an 8" telescope

GEAR USED:

Processing: Pixinsight

ACQUISITION DETAILS:

Total Exposure Time: 3.1 hours

Exposure Time per frame: 6 minutes

31 lights - 15 Darks - 15 Bias

ISO: 800


 

How to Find the Triangulum Galaxy

Map of where to find M33 the Triangulum Galaxy in the night sky, constellation of Triangulum near Andromeda, Perseus, Pisces and Aries


The Triangulum galaxy lies in the Triangulum constellation. The problem is, the Triangulum constellation is pretty dim, and using the Andromeda constellation, or Pegasus, to find the galaxy is the easier option.

As we said earlier, the Triangulum galaxy can be spotted with the naked eye, in extremely dark skies, far from any light pollution.


The easiest way to locate Messier 33 is to first find the Andromeda Galaxy (red oval shape on the top right of the map above). Once you have M31 in your sight, notice the distance between the galaxy and the star Mirach, and match that distance on the opposite side of this bright star.

Even under very dark skies, the galaxy is difficult to see with the unaided eye, but a pair of binoculars will easily reveal a blurry patch of light in the sky. Using a telescope will allow you to see the core, and make out some details within the arms.


Wide-field Astrophotography of Messier 33


Although not as impressive as M31, M42, or M45, the Triangulum galaxy is still a good target for wide-field photography.

Make sure to click on each picture to get a better view! You can easily see the shape of the Triangulum galaxy, with its bright core and beautiful spiral arms!

M31 the Andromeda and M33 the Triangulum Galaxy astrophotography using an unmodified DSLR camera without a telescope

On the left is our photo of both the Andromeda Galaxy (right, middle) and the Triangulum Galaxy (left, bottom), in the same frame using a 50mm lens. We spent 4 hours on the imaging, with our good old Canon t3i attached to an iOptron SkyTracker.


M33 the Triangulum Galaxy astrophotography using an unmodified DSLR camera and without a telescope



This second image (right) is a cropped version of M33, taken from the full wide field photo but using a different processing method (Although it seems like I forgot to use SCNR during the processing workflow to take off the green color).







GEAR USED:

Camera: Canon T3i (600D)

Processing: Pixinsight

ACQUISITION DETAILS:

Total Exposure Time: 4 hours

ISO: 800


 

Single Shot & Processing of M33


When talking about processing, the Triangulum Galaxy has a similar difficulty level to the Andromeda Galaxy, although if you have already imaged and processed M31 with an 8" or bigger telescope, you will find M33 to be a little easier.


This time, the galaxy is not too large that you can easily distinguish the dark sky with the nebulosity, making your background neutralization tasks much less tricky than with M31. The key here is to get as much of the arms as possible, without overdoing it. As you can see in our main image, each arm is pretty well revealed, but pushing the software a little more would have made some bright, nonexistent haze visible just around the galaxy. 


Below is what a 6-minute single shot of the target looks like with our unmodified DSLR camera. You can see a lot of details around the core, but not so much in the spiral arms. This changes once you stack everything!

M33 the Triangulum Galaxy astrophotography single shot unedited using an unmodified DSLR camera and an 8" telescope

 

A Deep ky Object Within a Deep Sky Object


When staring at our main photo of the Triangulum Galaxy, I wondered what that white little patch was in one of the arms. I thought it was a blown-out part from the processing until I did some research and realized it was NGC 604: One of the largest nebulae in our entire local group! To give you an idea of its size, it is 40 times the size of the Orion Nebula... 


Below you can see our cropped photo of M33, with Hubble's image of NGC 604 where the nebula is located.

M33 the Triangulum Galaxy astrophotography using an unmodified DSLR camera and an 8" telescope

 

Galactic Hunter Episode 5 - The Triangulum Galaxy


The Triangulum Galaxy was the winner of Episode 4's votes, so it was in the center of the fifth episode of Galactic Hunter!



 

Final Thoughts


To conclude, The Triangulum Galaxy is one of the most impressive galaxies in the night sky. It is a great target for beginners, and we would recommend you give it a go after having imaged the easy trio (M45, M42, M31). Make sure to spend enough time on it, and do not overdo the processing! You can also give this target a go at wide-field photography, just make sure to include the Andromeda Galaxy if using a 50mm lens or smaller.



Dalia and Orion 8" f/3.9 astrograph Newtonian telescope with Atlas Mount EQ-G

Clear Skies,

Antoine & Dalia Grelin

Galactic Hunter




 

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