I can’t possibly say anything on the subject of astronomy (in the U.S.), during the week of Aug 20, 2017, without mentioning the total solar eclipse.  BUT, what else is there left to say?  This will be by some accounts the most-viewed natural phenomenon, EVER, and I think by now everybody has gotten the message that something extraordinary is going to happen.  I have never seen totality – but I’ve seen enough passionate descriptions of what it looks and feels like, that I am among the millions trying to get to the shadow, and hoping the weather will cooperate.

I want to see shadow bands (which I know are rare), I want to see Bailey’s Beads and a diamond ring, I want to see the corona with the naked eye, and I want to see the Sun, Mercury, Mars, Venus – all laid out like a model of the inner solar system.  I’ve dragged my family along, in the hopes that all my hype will turn out to be worth THEIR time.

But really, at this point, with less than 24 hours to go – it’s all up to chance.  I don’t want to jinx myself by talking about all the planning – at this point, what happens, happens… I wish you all the best of luck in your viewing endeavors, and we’ll catch up on the other side.

Andromeda_galaxy_2So instead, maybe as a distraction, I want to talk about something completely different – the Andromeda Galaxy.  Andromeda is the closest “major” galaxy to ours, at 2 million light years.  “Major” is an important distinction, as the Magellanic Clouds are Milky Way neighbors – but irregular.  Andromeda is a fully-formed spiral, and it’s beautiful.  I’ve been waiting for it ever since I started experimenting with long-exposure DSLR shots back in the early spring.  I’m well aware that this NASA composite is well out of reach, but I’ve been very curious to see what I COULD capture without a telescope.

This galaxy is visible to the naked eye on a REALLY dark night.  If your skies are clear, look for it in the east about an hour after sunset.  The point formed by the narrower half of the Cassiopeia “W” points right at it, above a fairly bright star off to the north of the Great Square of Pegasus.

Pegasus, Andromeda

Finding Andromeda – 10pm in Mid-August.  via Stellarium.

It’s a great target for binoculars or a small telescope – but as I was to learn, it’s really challenging to photograph all at once.  Dealing with a very bright galactic center and very diffuse clouds of stars in the galactic disk made me wind up taking almost an impressionistic approach, where capturing the “feel” of the galaxy seemed easier and more effective then capturing the detail.

My first tries captured a fuzzy center with a hint of elongated disk – unsatisfying.  My tries at getting longer exposures to capture the disk resulted in over-exposing the center and generating “digital” artifacts that look unnatural.  The few I wound up using (after taking 107 photos of the galaxy), turned out to be a very slightly adjusted single frame of 4 seconds, and a stacked view that amounts to approximately 2 minutes worth of exposure.

Andromeda 4s

Andromeda Galaxy – 4 seconds, ISO 3200


The same, but allowing a little of the horizon light pollution creep in.

Andromeda 2m

Andromeda Galaxy – 2 minute stacked exposure using Deep Sky Stacker.  Any longer and the center was getting overexposed.

As as often the case, the hunt is an education in and of itself – and focusing on this small area over several nights turned up other gems, as well as helping me appreciate the Summer Triangle high overhead, the Milky Way cutting through Cygnus…

I hope you like what I came up with.  And…good luck with the eclipse tomorrow!  I’m looking forward to hearing about everybody’s viewing experiences!

Get Out There

2 thoughts on “Andromeda (Astronomy: Week of 8/20/17)

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