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andromeda galaxy

Photographing the Andromeda Galaxy

|Galaxies|19 Comments

With summer coming to a close, I had one last chance for some deep sky astrophotography under dark skies.  Choosing an astrophotography target at a dark sky site requires some serious thought. The key is to focus on an object that will benefit from broadband color data without the need for harsh light pollution filters.

After much deliberation, I decided to spend this rare occasion with my sights set on the Andromeda Galaxy. Cataloged as Messier 31, Andromeda is a massive spiral galaxy that demands attention. This month, it’s well placed in the night sky for your next astrophotography project.

The good news is, the Andromeda Galaxy can be appreciated using nothing more than a stock DSLR camera, a telescope, and a tracking mount. Finding the ideal field of view is the tricky part.

The Andromeda Galaxy is primed for imaging this month

Whether you are new to this hobby or have been capturing the night sky for years, I hope that you were able to get out and enjoy astrophotography this season.

Despite the almost record-setting rainfall in my area this summer, the season included its fair share of clear nights as well.  The warm nights create challenges for DSLR astrophotographers, making thermal noise a real pain.  Needless to say, I welcome the cooler nights of September and October with open arms.

Photographing the Andromeda Galaxy

The William Optics Zenithstar 61 ready to capture Andromeda

Camping Under Dark Skies

Way back in April, I booked a camping trip one of my favorite dark sky sites in Ontario, Rock Point Provincial Park.  I was overjoyed to find out that the Saturday night of the trip had clear skies in the forecast. I’ve lucked out with my astronomy camping trips this year, both to Long Point PP and Cherry Springs.

My campsite had all the elements of a great astrophotography site.  I scouted out the campsites at the park on a previous visit, to find a site with large open areas of the sky.  Campsite 140 included a power supply station, wide open views in all directions and privacy from surrounding campsites.

Deep Sky Astrophotography

Ready for a night of deep sky astrophotography

As always, Rudy provided great company as he is quite used to hanging around me as I fiddle with telescopes and cameras.  He even performed his usual backyard ritual of cozying up on the rug I place underneath my deep sky astrophotography equipment.

He was a big hit with the other campers, as many people approached him to say hello. Rock Point has an incredible beach, and Rudy enjoyed some long walks along the shoreline during the day.

William Optics Zenithstar 61 APO

I am delighted to announce that a brand new William Optics Zenithstar 61 APO arrived in the mail on Friday.  I have always been a fan of William Optics equipment, having previously used the 72 Megrez doublet, and the WO Field Flat III 0.8X Flattener/Reducer for many years.

With the Z61 arriving on Friday, it gave me one night to get things in order for a dry run, and then an opportunity to test the optics under some dark skies the following night.  I am just starting to get my feet wet using the new Z61, so I’ll save my review for a little later.  However, my early experiences say a lot about the ease of use and build quality of this refractor from William Optics.

DSLR astrophotography

Connecting a DSLR camera to the Zenithstar 61 telescope

The package included a William Optics Flat 61 Field Flattener, complete with a Canon DSLR T-Mount adapter.  The first challenge I faced was learning that the flattener actually threads directly into the 2″ focuser drawtube, as opposed to clamping the barrel into a compression ring.

The build quality and attention to details in the Z61 are evident in the Z61

The camera locks into place securely, ready for fine focusing on a bright star using the buttery smooth dual speed focuser.  The temperature gauge is a nice touch and can indicate a need for an adjustment later as the temperature drops throughout the night.

I have stated many times how much I love apochromatic refractors.  The forgiving wide fields of view, sharp stars, color correction, and reliability are among my favorite features.  The Z61 happens to be a doublet with a focal ratio of F/5.9. This affordable imaging refractor has proven to be a real performer.

 

Zenithstar 61mm Apochromatic Telescope

The Zenithstar 61mm Apo

Specifications:

  • Aperture: 61mm
  • Focal Ratio: F/5.9
  • Focal Length: 360mm
  • Design: Air-Spaced Doublet

Features

  • Extremely Portable & Lightweight
  • 1:10 Dual Speed Micro Focuser
  • Synthetic Flourite (FPL-53) Glass
  • Optional Anodized 200mm Dovetail

iOptron SkyGuider Pro Mount

Next up was mounting the Doublet for deep sky imaging on a tracking mount.  The Sky-Watcher HEQ5 Pro that carries my Explore Scientific ED102 seemed overkill.  If only I had something a little more portable and lightweight?  Oh right, the iOptron SkyGuider Pro (On loan from Ontario Telescope and Accessories)

The iOptron mount can handle the Z61 telescope with ease, utilizing the included counter weight for balance.  The Zenithstar weighs a mere 3 lbs, meaning the SkyGuider Pro is well suited for this instrument.  Perhaps I could have even got away without the counterweight.

iOptron SkyGuider Pro Accessories

iOptron SkyGuider Pro Mount – Camera Tracking Device

The image of the Andromeda Galaxy below is proof that you do not need a bulky motorized equatorial mount for deep sky astrophotography.  The iOptron SkyGuider Pro continues to impress me with its reliability and performance.



Deep Sky Astrophotography with a DSLR

Photographing the Andromeda Galaxy

As dusk set in, I did my best to capture the emotions and anticipation felt on nights like this.  For a full recap of the trip including my final image, have a look at the video:

The deep sky target I chose on this magical night was the massive Andromeda Galaxy.  The focal length of the Z61 (360mm) was a great fit for this object.  The skies were so dark, I was able to use the viewfinder in my Canon T3i to locate and frame M31.

I have photographed the Andromeda Galaxy in the past using a larger refractor (Explore Scientific ED80) with more exposure time, on a Celestron CG-5 Mount.  The difference in detail is evident, but I believe the Z61 + SkyGuider Pro could produce an image just as deep with enough time.

It’s also worth noting that the color balance changed quite significantly from the original image using a stock Canon DSLR.

In the coming weeks, I will share a detailed review of the William Optics Zenithstar 61, complete with multiple example images.  I’ll need to spend some more time with this telescope before giving it an honest review.

The Andromeda Galaxy

The imaging sequence was automated using an inexpensive remote shutter release cable, and fired away at M31, capturing 70 x 2-minute exposures in total. I then shot 40 dark frames and subtracted them in DeepSkyStacker to reduce noise.

Andromeda Galaxy - Deep Sky Atrophotography

The Andromeda Galaxy using a DSLR Camera

The Andromeda Galaxy (Cataloged Messier 31), is a spiral galaxy located about 2.5 million light-years from Earth. It resides in the constellation of the same name and is the largest galaxy in the Local Group.  Other notable galaxies in the Local Group include our own Milky Way Galaxy and the Triangulum Galaxy.

The apparent magnitude of the Andromeda Galaxy is 3.4. This makes it one of the brightest Messier Objects in the night sky and can be easily spotted in binoculars or a small telescope.

Canon DSLR Camera

Equipment Used:

Imaging Telescope: William Optics Zenithstar 61 APO
Camera Adapter/Flattener: William Optics Flat 61 Flattener and T-Mount
DSLR Camera: Canon Rebel T3i/600D (Full Spectrum Mod)
Filter: IDAS LPS Filter (Clip-In)
Mount: iOptron SkyGuider Pro Mount
Camera Control: Polaroid Remote Shutter Release Cable

Photo Details:

Total Exposure: 2 Hours, 18 Minutes
70 x 120s @ ISO 1600

Stacked in DeepSkyStacker with 40 Dark Frames

Image Processing in Adobe Photoshop

Image Processing Workflow:

1. Levels Adjustment
2. Curves Adjustment
3. Set Black Point
4. Increase Contrast (Carboni’s Tools)
5. Increase Star Color (Carboni’s Tools)
6. Star Reduction (Carboni’s Tools)
7. Increase Saturation (Select Color Range)
8. Noise Reduction
9. Smart Sharpen
10. Selective Sharpening

Thanks

I want to thank everyone for the thoughtful comments on my video, both on YouTube and Facebook.   I am very lucky to be able to share my astrophotography journey with you all.  You can stay up to date by subscribing to the AstroBackyard Newsletter.

AstroBackyard

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Monster Galaxy

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This post showcases one of my first images of the Andromeda Galaxy. The photo was captured using a small refractor telescope on a tracking equatorial mount. I have since photographed Messier 31 several times through a variety of different telescopes.

Have a look at my experiences photographing Andromeda using a William Optics Z61 refractor on an iOptron SkyGuider Pro mount: Let’s Photograph the Andromeda Galaxy. This post includes a video and description of my deep sky astrophotography setup.

M31 Andromeda Galaxy taken with Canon Xsi in July 2012

M31 – The Andromeda Galaxy

On Friday July 21st, I spent another lonely night at the CCCA Observatory in Wellandport Ontario. I started a bit late, and it was complete darkness as I made the 40 minute drive from my house.  I was delighted to see the milky way appearing as I looked out my sunroof on that cool July night.

When I got to the observatory, I instantly noticed how clear and stable the air was.  I took a few 30-second exposures on my tripod while I set up.

Milky way taken with Canon XSi on Tripod

The Milky Way at the CCCA

After setting up all of my equipment, I set my sights on Andromeda.  After a little bit of framing with some 10 second exposures, I let Canon EOS Utilities take over and set it to take (75) 240 Second Exposures at ISO 1600.

My PHD graph was looking great so I knew I was in for some great data.  Because I had almost 3 hours of great frames, and I was under dark skies, processing was very straightforward and a pleasure to perform.

Here are the details for the above photo of M31

51 x 240″ ISO 1600

Stacked with 16 darks

ES ED80 Triplet Apo
ASCG-5 GT
Orion Mini Guidescope
Meade DSI II
Canon 450d unmodded
Stacked in DSS

As you may or may not have noticed, I have updated the astrophotography image gallery of this website.  I wanted to include more details of how I shot each object, in hopes to give some direction to aspiring astrophotographers.  It is still a work in progress, but I plan on having it finished by the end of the month.

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