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Andromeda galaxy - tick or no tick?


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Last night we had a decidedly cold and unpleasant wind but largely clear skies; some fast-moving cloud and a hazy-looking near-half moon. With what we've had of late I decided to sieze the chance! Rather than put a scope out and risk the rain-god's wrath - not to mention the cold wind - I took the binoculars (10x50s). Whilst out there I started with the obligatory good look at M42 - well you just have to don't you, it's mesmerising. Now, I'm very new to observing and due to the near-continuous cloud-cover of late I'm still trying to even find certain constellations from my light-polluted back garden. The back of the house faces almost due east, so anything in the low or western half of the sky is the hardest to find, not only because almost nothing is visible but also since my low-down view is blocked anyway. The hunt for Andromeda resumed. Finding a start-point is a challenge in itself and I decided to cheat a bit with "Skeye" on the phone.

I've tried on a few occasions to identify Andromeda and hence locate the titled galaxy. So far it's been a miserable failure and the bright, hazy moon last night wasn't encouraging. I decided to attack the problem with brute force and patience, so I swept slowly and methodically in the area that Skeye indicated. Finally, I found a faint smudge that looked a likely candidate, with (assumed) v-Andromeda close by (can't seem to find greek letters on the keyboard!). I estimate I could see about 1-degree with no structure, just a smudge that wasn't passing cloud and sort-of galaxy-shaped. A check on Stellarium on the PC later suggests I wouldn't find anything else in the area - orientation and relationship to v-Andromeda looked correct for the time too.

Now, on the one hand I feel chuffed that I found what I can't explain as anything else but the said galaxy but on the other I'm a bit surprised. The question to the experienced observers is: was this an achievement under the conditions or should it not have been difficult? Do I "tick it off" or not? The joy of something good or the "nope, you made a mistake"? On the chin please...I'm a big boy 🙂

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It certainly sounds like you found M31, so in that sense you can ‘tick it off’, although I would rather suggest you view it as the start of a long and enjoyable relationship 😉.

Much depends on what your skies are like. The central core is quite bright, but the outer reaches are faint. It grows a lot bigger when you are under very dark skies with properly dark adapted eyes. In a widefield scope, or big binos it’s can be an amazing sight. Under light pollution you just see the smaller core.

In terms of finding it, there are a couple of easy star hops. I prefer option two on this map, and can find it within seconds every time now either naked eye or with binoculars.

AE114C58-68EF-493B-A32F-13773FC9D4F0.jpeg

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Yes, no other smudges in that neighbourhood visible with binoculars under these circumstances. That's a tick! Congratulations!

The galaxy is readily visible to the naked eye if your skies are dark enough.

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Well done! He who looks finds (eventually). Learning the star hops to these objects is really good for your knowledge base and you will never forget how to find it ..... and be able to show others too!!

BTW using phone apps is OK but does not IMHO help you learn your way around the sky and they tend to upset dark adaption too, so I encourage beginners to get a good small sky atlas and star hop. This year I star hopped to Neptune with binoculars, even though I have seen it times before with a scope, and felt good just about finding it.

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Thanks for the encouragement! Yes, definitely one to re-visit and preferably with a scope and from darker skies - when we're allowed out to play. I can't see it naked-eye from here, or not last night anyway. Strangely, it's in the direction that I'd expect LP to be less bad but that seems not to be the case. I have a hard time finding anything but the brightest stars in the NW-ish direction. I'm looking away from the city that way, is back-scatter a likely candidate? Not sure what logic applies to LP.

Actually, Stephenstargazer I agree completely. In this case, the frustration of being able to see so little in the required direction prompted the "cheating". Star-hopping from the highly-visible Orion wasn't going to work 🙂

Stu, I've tried route 1 before and failed. Route 2 is a non-starter due to LP/obstructed view at this time of year.

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Andromeda was my first Galaxy (all of 2 months ago) and I loved seeing it, so congrats and that's a big tick! Route 2 works for me and I can do it fairly quickly now. Can't wait to see it in all its glory if I get to some dark skies.

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Definitely an achievement. Subsequent tries should be much easier to find it. The difference between a moderate-high LP view and a dark sky M31 observation is quite startling. You have something to look forward to. 😀

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I use Option 3, which is Cassiopaea into the top of Perseus, down andromeda and then up. Easy to start (cassiopaea is always up) and easier to follow, even when there are fewer stars visible.  Well done!

Peter

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5 hours ago, PeterW said:

I use Option 3, which is Cassiopaea into the top of Perseus, down andromeda and then up. Easy to start (cassiopaea is always up) and easier to follow, even when there are fewer stars visible.  Well done!

Peter

Now that's one I could try. I can find Perseus when it's high-ish, or at least the brighter bits - enough to find it. Cassiopeia is a doddle to find even here. I'll plan a route for that way next time I attempt it.

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8 minutes ago, wulfrun said:

Now that's one I could try. I can find Perseus when it's high-ish, or at least the brighter bits - enough to find it. Cassiopeia is a doddle to find even here. I'll plan a route for that way next time I attempt it.

Something like this maybe?

1949FD4C-0949-4D5C-BD72-85293F258BFA.jpeg

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13 minutes ago, Stu said:

Something like this maybe?

1949FD4C-0949-4D5C-BD72-85293F258BFA.jpeg

Looks promising, I'll save that one for a time when I can see anything other than thick cloud! Thanks for your trouble.

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Sounds like you found it, well done.

As with most galaxies there's a brighter central core, which may be all that you are seeing, but the outer regions of M31 extend a long way if the conditions are right. Background light pollution makes a difference as @ScouseSpaceCadetmentioned, and so does dark adaptation (which may be difficult in a suburban setting). I remember reading about an experiment carried out some years ago, where they kept someone in a pitch black room for 30 minutes and led him to the eyepiece with a sack over his head. He said M31 looked twice the size as it had done without the precautions.

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22 minutes ago, Zermelo said:

Sounds like you found it, well done.

As with most galaxies there's a brighter central core, which may be all that you are seeing, but the outer regions of M31 extend a long way if the conditions are right. Background light pollution makes a difference as @ScouseSpaceCadetmentioned, and so does dark adaptation (which may be difficult in a suburban setting). I remember reading about an experiment carried out some years ago, where they kept someone in a pitch black room for 30 minutes and led him to the eyepiece with a sack over his head. He said M31 looked twice the size as it had done without the precautions.

Dear Dragon's Den, I wish to manufacture special high quality 'astro head sacks' which I believe will find a ready market ,  .... 🙂

Heather

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40 minutes ago, Tiny Clanger said:

Dear Dragon's Den, I wish to manufacture special high quality 'astro head sacks' which I believe will find a ready market ,  .... 🙂

Heather

The next SGL star party might be interesting. First Light Optics 'May Contain Eyes' astro sacks could be a big seller. 

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1 minute ago, ScouseSpaceCadet said:

The next SGL star party might be interesting. First Light Optics 'May Contain Eyes' astro sacks could be a big seller. 

I'm not sure if I want to laugh or shudder at sacks may contain eyes  !

(Engage gravelly voiced, portentous  film trailer voice) "They thought they were prepared for the dark .... But were their eyes really ready for what was to come ? When the FLO astro head sacks (T.M.) come off  , the horror awaits ...

"The Seeing" , coming to a cinema near you (eventually)"

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Just an update, I managed to find it again last night, this time in the 114P Virtuoso. Despite an almost-full Moon and being plagued by surrounding insecurity lights in all directions. Actually, the conditions were such that it looked even less obvious and even more a faint smudge than last time with the bins.

I suppose like anything else, once found you know where to look next time!

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