Capturing a Galaxy from my Balcony

The tiny Corona virus has large effects, one of them making travelling to interesting places difficult. So instead of exploring the underwater sphere, let’s have a look in the opposite direction: the sky. Might it be possible to take a photo of deep space from home?

Photographically speaking, there are similarities between capturing astro and underwater scenes. There is not much light to capture. Is it possible to take a photo of a galaxy from the balcony with camera and lens, without using a telescope?

The night sky with the International Space Station (ISS) passing in the top left corner. On the top right (arrow), Andromeda galaxy is faintly visible.
The night sky with the International Space Station (ISS) passing in the top left corner. On the top right (arrow), Andromeda galaxy is faintly visible.

The Andromeda galaxy is neighbouring our own galaxy Milky Way, yet it’s very far. By naked eye it’s just visible under ideal circumstances, i.e. clear skies without too much light pollution. A little east in the sky from her mythological mother Cassiopeia, Andromeda was first described in the 10th century by the Persian astronomer Al-Suri. In 1923, Edwin Hubble took black and white photographs of Andromeda on 4×5″ glass plates using a – then huge – telescope and calculated the distance to Earth.

The Andromeda Galaxy (M31) is a spiral galaxy approximately 2.5 million light-years from Earth and the nearest major galaxy to the Milky Way. Below Andromeda's centre is the small galaxy M32, and above is M110.
The Andromeda Galaxy (M31) is a spiral galaxy approximately 2.5 million light-years from Earth and the nearest major galaxy to the Milky Way. Below Andromeda’s centre is the small galaxy M32, and above is M110.

For my photo, I’ve taken 200 one-second-exposures at 12’800 ISO using a 300 mm lens. Longer exposures would be ruined by star-trailing due to the rotation of the earth. The raw photos were stacked in the app Siril. The photo is still very noisy and doesn’t resolve the beautiful details – but not bad for a camera with lens on a tripod without a telescope and tracking mount!

It took the photons travelling from Andromeda 2.5 million light-years to reach the sensor of my camera. I really should not complain about not being able to travel.

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