Sunday, April 14, 2013

Comet PanSTARRS buzzes the Andromeda Galaxy

Last month I posted my plan to photograph C/2011 L4 (PanSTARRS) as it approached the Andromeda Galaxy (M31). I was successful, but never got around to blogging about it, so here goes! On April 2, 2013 I went to Slippery Elm Trail at dusk to wait until the comet and galaxy were visible low in the NW sky.

I had all but given up on Andromeda for the season, because the view to the west from my apartment is blocked below 40ยบ or so. This far into Spring, Andromeda is well behind the building by sunset, and so low in the sky by the time it gets dark that taking detailed deep sky images with my camera probably wouldn't yield anything beyond a fuzzy blob. However, paired with a comet, a fuzzy blob would be a welcome target!

andromeda and panstarrs
180 subs, 30 dark, 30 bias; subs at 1.6 sec, ISO 1600, f/5.0, 190mm

I used bright stars in Cassiopeia and Andromeda to star hop to the approximate location. Once I knew I was in the area, I used the same technique from the last time I spotted Andromeda or PanSTARRS - and that is to take 10 second exposures and see what blobs appear. Then, once you have the images framed well, take exposures more appropriate for stacking (in my case, 1.6 sec at 190mm).

andromeda and panstarrs
One of my "finder frames" to help me zero in on my targets, 10 sec, ISO 1600, 190mm

Here is a wide field shot to show just how low M31 ended up at the end of my night. With all the atmospheric distortion and light pollution, it's a wonder I was able to see the darn thing!

interesting night sky objects
Background image is a single exposure at ISO 1600, 13 sec, 18mm

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