Doo, doo, doo, lookin' out my back door

My first serious attempt at astro imaging - taken from just outside my back door. This is the galaxy M31 in Andromeda. Stack of 50 luminance, 25 red, 25 green, and 25 blue frames, along with 25 dark frames. Exposures were 15 seconds (the mount is not polar aligned). Camera is a Meade DS3, at prime focus of an Orion ED80T-CF 80mm F/6 apochromatic refractor. Mount is an iOptron MiniTower Pro. Images were acquired and stacked with Stark Labs Nebulosity. Final tweaking in Photoshop.

Thirty years ago this fall, as an undergrad, I took an astronomy class at NMSU. As part of that class, we got to try astrophotography. At the time, that meant loading a large, heavy, fragile glass plate with photo emulsion coating into a 16" fixed-mount Cassegrain telescope. I chose M31 as my target. I then had to stand at the eyepiece and manually guide the exposure. The whole setup probably cost $300,000 (it belonged to the university), and I spent about two hours hunched over that telescope.

I got an "A" for my effort, which looked kind of like this (a B+W negative, which is what the image in the glass plate was):
Thirty years ago, the photo at the top of this post could have been an award-winning cover on an astronomy magazine. And yet now, it is commonplace. The equipment to do it is more than two orders of magnitude cheaper, and is very easily portable. And other than a few minutes of setup and checking, I spent most of the time inside my warm house nursing a beer, letting the computer sit outside and do the hard work.
I may yet go back and do further processing to bring out more details.   Did I ever mention I love the progress of technology?

Edit (literally) - I tweaked the contrast and color balance a bit, for this picture:

Here is just the luminance channel.  It's a wider angle because it did not need to get cropped from the subsequent rotation of the color channels:

18 minutes ago ·


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