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Getting to see more that a "smudge" in Galaxies


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This is a difficult one as all galaxies will look like smudges in most scopes unless you get to really dark skies.

The only thing that improves galaxies are dark skies and aperture.

Edited by Doc
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As Doc says, for galaxies the key ingredients are dark skies and aperture. An 8" should see many galaxies and produce nice views of the brighter ones. At a truly dark site you might be surprised how well it will do.

Edited by John
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The skies here in dumfries are pretty dark and my garden faces south away from most of the LP, will defo need to find a dark site near by, I think ive asked this before ( prob drunk at time) but is Andromeda supposed to be a few full moons in size as I find it its pretty small, am sure someone said I was only seeing the core but since my 3" of mirror increase its still the same, lol

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It takes time to notice the subtle details in galaxies and for me it was over the course of many observing sessions before I started to notice stuff like the dust lane for example.

I recommend checking out M63 sunflower galaxy, when you see a distinct sunflower shape it looks awesome.

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John - try using binocs on it first - 10x50's will give a good idea of the smudge. With your scope I'd recommend a wide ep of around 30mm-40mm - WO Swans are a good budget ep - Uwans even better. As others say - spend time on it and get dark adapted - pick a clear night - it's a big object and will show some detail - try averted vision also :)

Edited by brantuk
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I think Andromeda is 5 degrees across in total? actually looking at this, about 2.5.

Size of M31 vs. Moon

the problem is that visually unless you are in dark skies you can only see the brighter central bit (as well as M32 easily) and M110 not so easily - not seen this yet.

try putting a dark sheet / T shirt over your head, this helps cut out any light interference and darken your eyes a bit more.

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I tried M31 on 2 seperate nights with my 5 inch mak. The first night was just as you described it John, very small bright smudge not much different to me than a nice glob cluster.

Tried it again about 2 weeks ago (no viewing since then unfortunately) when the sky was much darker and I couldn't believe what I could see. It was still a smudge but the core seemed to be quite a bit brighter and there was more of a 'haze' surrounding it. I could easily see the 2 companion galaxies as faint smudges.

Bring on the DOB!

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I find galaxies frustrating things. My view of M31 is quite similar to the one you describe (tho my scope is smaller). I don't hold out much hope for myself as LP is quite bad where i live.

Mind you i was so chuffed when i first found M31 that i didn't care if it was just a faint smudge, i still did my -'found a new exciting object dance', yes i have no shame :)

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Personally I think that M81 and M82 are much more interesting to view than M31. You get "2 for the price of one" with a low power eyepiece with those as well !

They were the 1st galaxies that I ever saw - that was with a 60mm refractor so they should be a piece of cake for a 5" / 6" scope.

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Under a really good dark sky at SSP my TAL 4" showed one of the the best views of Andromeda I think I have ever had. The 8" was out of action at the time - thats no refelection (pardon the pun) on the SW200 - just the skies were so dark on the first night at SSP that Andromeda and its companion galaxies showed up amazingly well.

Edited by Astro_Baby
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I get a big thrill whenever i see a galaxy. Not because the views are good (they aint in a 5" scope), but the thrill is in seeing them and knowing what they are and how BIG they really are. My mind takes over and fills in the blanks so i actually see a galaxy with my minds eye. Of course i dont really know which galaxy i am looking at so they all look like M31 in my minds eye.

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Have hunted for M81 and M82 for some time- without success. :) not sure my six inch newt is up to the job under these sky's (rather close to the M5 (motorway not messier object)) would love to clap an eye on those two. Rather think a wide angle lens may help too but funds restricted right now ;)

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I have always found M31 enigmatic and frustrating. It never seems to look like a inclined spiral to me. I've seen it like Messiers drawing like a sausage with a bright core. I've also seen the wings show up kind of like a bow tie. I've also seen the bright bit between two dust lanes to the side, like a lick of paint below the bright core. But it's never come together for me and looked like a galaxy. I keep hoping for that ultra clear night where it will suddenly all be there.

M51 shows some spiral structure in my 12", but the shape is a bit odd because of the companion galaxy. M81/82 are good targets and I've definitely seen a swirl in the face on one. M101 has also shown me it's spiral structure, but it was faint faint faint.

Dust lanes in edge ons are good. NGC891 and NGC7814 are worth trying. Dunno how well they would show in an 8". Like has been said by others a really clear sky with little scattering makes a big difference.

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Well it's difficult to get anything other than a central bulge and lanes off the side, It's best viewed in my 32mm wide field EP and from a dark sky. Only ever seen it in my 200p but nothing bigger, I would expect if your photographed it, you may get a lot more detail, but don't expect too much with 8" scope.

In saying that though M31 is one of the nicest sites in a scope, an actual galaxy! From the central mass the arms stretch right across my FOV from the dark site, the Darker the sky + good seeing conditions the more you will see.

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"The only thing that improves galaxies are dark skies and aperture."

I wholeheartedly agree with Mick. Although my sky is fairly dark, galaxies were on the bottom of my DSO list because i needed better than average transparency to squeeze any amount of detail out of them with the 8"SCT. Happily, there's a world of difference when the same target is viewed with more aperture under the same 'average' transparency. Increasing aperture was more sensible and less expensive than moving to an area with more transparent skies. :)

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