Mike's Astro Photos

Tag: Andromeda Galaxy

Sep.08 2012

High Resolution Andromeda Galaxy – Messier 31

by , under Galaxies

The Andromeda Galaxy has been one of my favorite pursuits since I started with astrophotography. It took me a while to figure out how to shoot it and each telescope you use reveals different things about the galaxy. I took this photo of Andromeda Friday night using a 14.5 inch  RC and full format CCD. Andromeda is still too big to fit completely in this field of view, but I think we are getting about 75% of it. For reference, this is the same setup I used on the blue moon, so yes, Andromeda is bigger than the full moon in the night sky. Its just dimmer and harder to see with the naked eye. Imagine what it would be like to look up in the sky and see something like this.

The Great Andromeda Galaxy in High Resolution – September 7th, 2012

Click the picture above for a [2400×2400] version or download a super high res [3700×3700] version of Andromeda here.

For comparison purposes, here are some past photos I’ve taken of Andromeda: Andromeda with a FLT 98 wide field telescope and SBIG ST8300 CCD in September 2011, Andromeda with FLT 98 and DSLR Camera in September 2010, the first picture I ever took of Andromeda with a Celestron CPC1100 and DSLR in January 2010 and of course the telescopic Bolide with Andromeda picture from July 2009.

Photo Details
Messier 31 – The Great Andromeda Galaxy
RGB 50X50X50 Minutes Each
Total exposure 2 hours 30 minutes
Camera: Apogee U16M
Guider: SBIG 402 with MMOAG Off Axis Guider
Telescope: RCOS 14.5
Mount: Paramount ME
Location: Freeland MD
Date: 9/7/2012
Software: The SkyX, MaximDL, FocusMax, CCDAutoPilot, CCDStack, Photoshop

here’s a zoomify version that is fun to play around with. Click the image to zoom in and the icons to control. Full screen mode is pretty cool.

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Sep.28 2011

M31 Astrophoto – The Great Andromeda Galaxy

by , under Galaxies

Here’s my latest picture of the The Great Andromeda Galaxy. Also known as Messier 31, Andromeda is a spiral galaxy about 2.2 million light years away from Earth. In 964 a persian astronomer described the galaxy as a ‘small cloud’. When you look at Andromeda through a telescope, it looks like a smudge or a small cloud. Only with a camera and long exposure, does the galaxy’s true form take shape. The majestic spirals and bright center core reveal a universal grouping of over 1 trillion stars!

Andromeda Galaxy - August 23, 2011

Compare the astrophoto above with a picture of the Andromeda Galaxy from about 1 year ago, or this photo of Andromeda from 18 months ago. Skills, equipment and 1 year’s experience make a big difference in picture quality!

Astro Photo Details
5×10 minute RGB / 150 Total minutes
SBIG ST8300 Camera
Orion ST80 Guide Scope
SBIG 402 Guide Camera
Paramount ME Mount
William Optics FLT98
CCDSoft / The Sky X / CCDStack

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Sep.12 2010


by , under Galaxies

Here’s a recent photo of the Andromeda Galaxy taken with a William Optics FLT98. At a mere 2.2 million light years away, Andromeda is the closest spiral galaxy to Earth and visible as a fuzzy dot in binoculars or a small telescope. On a dark night you can see it with your naked eye or a basic camera lens. Andromeda is estimated to have over 1 trillion stars making it 2-3 times larger than the Milkyway.

Andromeda Galaxy - Sept 6th, 2010

Andromeda Galaxy - Sept 6th, 2010

Photo Details
William Optics FLT 98
Canon 20Da Camera
12×3 minute ISO 400
SBIG STV Auto Guider

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Jan.10 2010

Andromeda Galaxy – M31

by , under Galaxies

I’ve been wanting to shoot a good picture of the Andromeda Galaxy since I got my telescope. Andromeda is the closest galaxy to the Milky Way and a very large target. Its proportionally a little larger than the full moon in the sky (no you can’t really see it with your naked eye, but if you could it would be as big as the moon). Andromeda is a hard target for larger scopes because of its size. Here’s the best picture of Andromeda I’ve been able to do yet. Its a total of 90×2 minute frames (180 minutes!) and it still doesn’t look the way I would expect it to.

Andromea November 28th, 2009

Andromeda Galaxy - November 28th, 2009

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Dec.31 2009

Year in Review December 31st, 2009

by , under Misc

Today marks the end of the International Year of Astronomy a ‘global effort initiated to help the citizens of the world rediscover their place in the Universe through the day – and night-time sky’. It is coincidental that I purchased my first telescope at celestron.com on December 27th, 2008 without knowing anything about the IYA project or the 400 year anniversary of Galileo’s discovery. Looking back at that time compared to now, I feel I was naive, ignorant and lost in regard to my place in the Universe and while I am still naive, ignorant and lost in the face of the Universe I am light years away from where I was then.

At this time last year I was eagerly awaiting the arrival of my first telescope. I didn’t know anything. I had never seen the craters of the moon up close, was never amazed by the rings of Saturn, and had never gazed upon Orion’s nebula. I knew what tracking was, but I didn’t understand how it worked, the concept of polar alignment was completely foreign and I thought GOTO would do exactly that all the time with no effort. I had never owned a DSLR camera and did not know what an auto-guider was. I knew I could hook up my telescope and camera to my computer but I didn’t know why I would want to. At that time I could only identify one or two constellations and that’s about it. Until July 6th, 2009 I had never even thought about meteor observing and I didn’t even understand the difference between meteors and meteorites. Sometimes people ask me why I got into astronomy. There are a lot of reasons, but the catalyst for buying my first telescope and wanting to start astrophotography was an emoticon in the sky created by Jupiter, Venus and the crescent moon — a sad face on December 1st, 2008.

I remember setting up the telescope in the solarium and gazing out the window at Orion’s nebula for the first time. I was totally amazed by the way it looked and so proud of myself that I had located it manually with no tracking or GOTO navigation. I started taking pictures about a month later and things got a lot more complicated, difficult and rewarding. When you are visually observing and not photographing you really can’t see very much when it comes to deep space objects like galaxies and faint nebula. The human eye can only process light for a millisecond while the camera gathers light for minutes or hours. As a result you can see a lot more stuff in an astrophoto than you can in the eye piece of a telescope. I was so excited by the first pictures of galaxies I was able to take. To image light millions of years old from objects that are light years wide and millions of light years away is simply mind blowing.

By March I had the rest of my year planned out. I was going to build an observatory and focus the rest of the years efforts on imaging galaxies and nebula. That was the plan until July when I accidentally took a picture of a bolide meteor while imaging the Andromeda Galaxy. That meteor changed a lot for me and set me on a new course. Instead of looking up at the sky for enormous objects light years away I was going to start looking down for tiny little objects 50 miles from my house. I spent the rest of the year tracking the meteor and searching for its remains. I really felt that the Universe was telling me to look for these meteorites for a reason and I thought that reason was to find some space rocks. At the end of the year looking back and having found no meteorites I am still very happy I had the experience. I have learned and grown in ways I would have never expected and I have a new respect for the Universe and my place in it. Who would have thought a sad face in the sky would have brought so much happiness and a year of astronomy like this.

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Sep.23 2009

Andromeda Calling – Comic

by , under Mason Dixon Meteor

I got this in an email from a random internet user named kirk2012. Kirk this is hilarious, thanks so much for taking the time to make this.

Andromeda Calling Comic

Andromeda Calling Comic (Click To Enlarge)

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Sep.21 2009

Andromeda Piggyback

by , under Stars

The new observatory is almost complete. I just got power working last night. I have the scope setup in there on the tripod as I haven’t gotten the pier yet. Its currently being fabricated and I should have it by the end of the month. Photography wise I’m limited to piggyback shots until I get the pier installed. I took this photo of Andromeda last night, I simply mounted my camera on top of my telescope, pointed to the Andromeda and snapped 5×2 minute exposures. I stacked 3 inside photoshop to create this image. There was the lowest default zoom on the camera, so the size of Andromeda is what it would be if you saw it with your naked eye (no magnification). Andromeda is the fuzzy ball in the center of the pic.

Andromeda Galaxy - September 19th, 2009

Andromeda Galaxy - September 19th, 2009

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Jul.09 2009

Update on Baltimore / PA Meteor

by , under Mason Dixon Meteor

Enhanced version of baltimore fireball picture

Enhanced version of baltimore fireball picture

Today has been crazy. I’ve got over 2 dozen emails from scientists, meteorite hunters and astronomers.

The feedback I have gotten on my picture has been amazing and everyone really seems to love it. I think I may be the first person in the world to photograph a meteor thru a telescope — its basically almost impossible to do. especially a meteor like this.If anyone knows if this has ever been done before please let me know.

I have had several meteorite hunters contact me and I have learned that they are actively looking for a crash site and have people on the ground now in PA.

The #1 most world famous meteorite hunter Steve Arnold contacted me today and said he was on a plane to Baltimore. The guy has a show called meteorite men on the science channel and said he might want to come out and check out the site where I took the picture.

Baltimore PA Meteor Picture
Baltimore PA Meteor Picture

Another group of meteorite hunters told me I could go out to the field with them if I wanted, they would share all their data with me and they said they would give me some meteorites if they find any and there is enough to go around. How cool is that!? These meteorite hunters remind me of Indiana Jones.

I’ve asked some of the meteorite experts if they can guess the size and they speculate the meteor was 1-2 meters big which is huge in meteor terms considering most shooting stars are about the size of a grain of rice. Other experts have scoffed at estimating it saying its simply impossible to know. I personally think it is very possible to calculate the size from my picture, but I don’t know how.

There is a lot of confusion about how much meteorites cost or are worth. This article from astronomy.com gives a pretty good explaination of the costs. Like most things the cost is based on supply and demand.

The most common meteorites generally cost between $3-$6 per gram while exotic meteorites  filled filled with space gems or carbon based diamonds that contain life’s building blocks may cost $30,000 per gram (these are super rare.) Meteorites that originated from Mars or the Moon are also very expensive. The most expensive meteor on ebay.com has a buy it now price of $3,500,000. Its over 2000 grams and comes in at $1500 per gram. It is billed as the ‘rarest’ meteor in the world. More than half of the 1900 metorites for sale on ebay right now are selling for less than $20. Most of them are under $5 and the more expensive ones are ones that have been made into jewlrey already. I found this pretty comprehensive chart of prices for meteorites that details prices for the different types of metiors.

If you are a landowner near a meteor crash site don’t think you’ve hit the jackpot. Most of the meteor hunters that will come knocking at your door are scientists doing research for colleges and museums. Chances are your meteorites will catch a few cents a gram at best. The meteorite hunters that I have met and talked to so far seem like fair people and are in it for the thrill more than the money.  Most of them will want to make a deal with you to pay you for your meteors but you shouldn’t expect a lot of money per gram.

People have told me that from my picture this meteor they think is mostly made out of stone. So its meteorites would fall into the ‘common’ category.  Some people did say there is still a 10% chance this could be space junk. An astro buddy of mine told me that it reminded him of what the space shuttles looked like when they crashed. He also mentioned that spy satelites travel on a south to north orbit so they can easily take pictures of the whole world once per day. The evidence currently supports that the meteor was traveling south to north. So if you are looking for this thing watch out for plutonium batteries!

Baltimore Meteor picture overlayed on star chart.
Baltimore Meteor picture overlayed on star chart.

Skyandtelescope magazine also contacted me and they want to do a story and publish my picture on their website. Kelly sent over this great image of my picture plotted correctly on a star chart. Thanks Kelly! I spent about 2 hours last night unsuccessfully trying to do this exact same thing.

Tonight I recreated the scene of the crime, by telling my scope to go back to the exact date of the picture and then having the goto computer target Andromeda. I was able to determine the RA/DEC numbers. I also took pictures of the sky with a laser to pin point where the meteor would have been. I will post these pictures tomorrow. I want to also make a simulated picture/video of how the sky would have looked in a wider field of view.

I’ve been uploading the WJZ interview to you tube for the last 2 hours. The video file was pretty big. I will post this on the blog once it uploads. A friend of mine re-edited it a bit, it should be pretty good.

Baltimore PA Meteor / Fireball Annontated
Baltimore PA Meteor / Fireball Annontated

I’ve also been plotting all of the sitings reported by different people in different areas, to help determine the trajectory. Alot of really smart people are working on determining the trajectory and I’m confident it will be precisely determined. The American Meteor Society has a meteor log book on line that has detailed reports from over 15 reliable meteor watchers. I’m plugging all of these into google earth to try to map out the path this thing took.

Special thanks to Eric from http://meteoriteblog.com/ who sent me these enhanced versions of the meteor pic. The image enhancements bring out detail in the photo. The little blue arrows indicate the streaking paths of smaller pieces of meteoroid debris.

Here is a video simulation / best guess of how things would have looked with the naked eye that night. Please if you are a meteor expert and have criticism of this simulation please send it to me so we can make improvements to the video.

Special thanks to Doctor Vincent Perlerin and his associates from Paris for analyzing the pictures and working on this video. Vincent you are the man!

I’ll keep you posted, this is really really amazing….


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Jul.06 2009

Meteor Over Baltimore

by , under Comets & Meteors, Mason Dixon Meteor

Meteor Over Baltimore July 6 2009

Meteor Over Baltimore July 6 2009

Last night I was taking long exposure shots of the andromeda galaxy. I set the camera to take 5×3 minute exposures and then went inside while the job was processing. While I was waiting I hear a large boom and my house shook. I dismissed it as possible fireworks or an earthquake but really didn’t know. The booom had woken up my neighbor and he was outside as well asking me if I heard or saw anything. I told him I did hear it but didn’t know what it was.

I quickly looked at my pics on the camera and saw this with very strange light trails but dismissed it as I was tired and didn’t think about it.

Then I hear about a meteor flying over baltimore today and looked at the picture again. This is definately the meteor and its a crazy picture.

If anyone is out there that wants to know more info about this picture or wants to get a hold of the hi-res file let me know. I sent it to some news stations today and it might be featured on the local news tonight.

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