Catching a Galaxy

Click on image to see full size.

Click on image to see full size.

   This morning I went out for a bike ride with Clara – where we were treated to a rainbow despite it not having rained. However a few hours earlier I was outside trying out my recently learned use of the ISO setting by attempting to take pictures of the Andromeda Galaxy, or known as M-31 from the Messier Catalog. M-31 is an easy to see naked-eye object even when it is setting in the west over the light polluted skies of the Kansas City metropolitan area. The Andromeda Galaxy is distinctive in a number of ways but for the backyard astronomer looking at this galaxy means that you are seeing the galaxy the way it looked more than 2 million years ago, having taken that long for the light from the galaxy to reach our eyes.
   Click here to see one of the pictures I took with a 55mm camera lens and settings of: 8 seconds; F5.6; ISO 1600. The picture is reduced around 75% from the original to full screen size (1650 x 1100) but the insert of M-31 is from the full size picture, and shows a little more detail. Unknown to me until I looked at the pictures on the computer was a light path left by a satellite that was moving from the northeast toward the southwest.

   The slideshow below could help to recognize the star patterns making up these two constellations. They are shown about how they appear as they rise in the east during late evenings this month. Finding the Andromeda Galaxy is easy as long as you are able to find the stars of the ‘Square of Pegasus’, an asterism using 3 stars from the constellation Pegasus the Winged Horse and one star, the head, from Andromeda the Princess. To find the galaxy first find the upper left corner star of the square, Alpheratz. Imagine a check mark shape and that you are at the end of the long part of the checkmark marked by Alpheratz. Now, starting with Alpheratz count 3 stars – Alpheratz, Delta Andromedae, Mirach. Then turn right to make the shorter part of the check mark, and count 3 more stars – Mirach, Mu Andromedae, M-31. Actually the third ‘star’ is the galaxy, and to the naked-eye should look like a fuzzy out of focus patch of light.
   To pause the slideshow move the cursor over the pictures to bring up the controls.

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   Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.

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