M31 - Andromeda Galaxy

by Chuck August 13, 2010

The Persied meteor shower was supposed to be visible tonight (supposed to be, but Astronomy magazine says the best viewing time is around 2:00 a.m. We didn't stay up that late) so Katie and I sat outside in the dark for a while watching for the bright streaks of meteors across the night sky.

We were disappointed by the meteors, in an hour of watching we only saw one large, bright meteor. Not exactly the 60 per hour that the magazine predicted. Since we were out there, however, we decided to get the binoculars out and take a look around.

Our first target was the bright planet that was above the tree line to the West. We assume it was either Venus or Saturn -- I shake too much to see details like Saturn's rings through the binoculars and Katie wasn't sure. It was definitely a planet though, the crescent shape was clear even through my shaky view (Update -- since the planet was crescent shaped it had to be Venus. Saturn doesn't show phases.)

Next we turned back to Hercules and looked for M13 again. It was right were we expected to find it, confirming both our ability to view vague blobs of light in the sky, and our ability to find the vague blobs in the sky.

Emboldened. we turned our sights on M31, the Andromeda galaxy. We were looking in that general direction anyway for the Persied meteors, so it made sense to try to find something to our North rather than the South as we usually do. It took me a few tries. I tried using the end of Cassiopia as guide stars to find the galaxy, but one of the stars was hidden behind a tree so I was using the wrong set  of stars. Once I figured that out, I was able to get the binoculars on M31 with few problems.

By this time Katie had headed in to bed, so after a few minutes viewing, I headed in myself. On the way up I stopped by Katie's room to tell her that I spotted the galaxy, she hopped out of bed and we went back outside to take another look. I needed to find different way to guide her to the galaxy, working off Cassiopia didn't help her. Fortunately, M31 was almost directly above another tree top, so I was able to guide her up from the horizon.

In the 7x50 binoculars M31 appears as an elongated blob of light, quite bright in the center, fading gently to the edges. It occupies a large portion of the binocular's field of view. From our viewing position we could not see M31, nor the nearby stars, with the naked eye, we'll need to find a darker viewing area to see the galaxy without help.

We didn't have the 3-inch reflector set up, so we weren't able to take a "closer" look. That will have to wait for another night.

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Backyard Astronomy

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