Sunday, December 25, 2011

M31 2011

A major event for California observers is the yearly California Star Party, or `Calstar'. My Bay Area buddies and I look forward to it each year. In 2011, I worked on M31, the Andromeda galaxy. M31 is a classic autumn object, rising in the evening and riding high for much of the night. I'd spent previous Calstars observing it in detail visually, and this year I wanted to get the best possible RGB imaging data that I could.

Happily, I'd just taken delivery of a new SBIG ST-8300M CCD camera, and I was eager to try it out. (Many thanks to Sam Sweiss at Scope City for helping me get it! This also meant that I could give the QSI 583 back to my Cilice friend, enabling him to image at Calstar.)

SBIG ST-8300M and Orion 2" LRGB filter wheel

Like the Lassen run in which I imaged the Eagle nebula, this year's Calstar was blessed with good weather. I got in a solid 3 nights of clear, dark skies, and managed to get several hours each of unbinned R, G, and B images. Calibration, integration, and processing in Pixinsight gave me this image:

The Andromeda galaxy (M31), approx. 15 hours total exposure time

After talking about star shrinking in yesterday's blog entry, I went back to RBA's M31 star-shrinking tutorial, and worked the problem some more. The image above has had its `medium-sized' stars dimmed, following Rogelio's tutorial. As he pointed out, M31 is not in the plane of the Milky Way, and thus doesn't need a lot of star reduction, but I think it helps the overall appearance of the image.

Room for Improvement:

I'm fairly pleased with the star shrinking / reduction / whatever you want to call it, but I need to double-check that I haven't affected the starlike nuclei of M31, M32, and NGC 205 too much. I also really want to figure out how to reduce the brightest and most bloated stars, like the blue one that appears to the lower left of M32, and the orange one that appears to the upper left of M32. As I stretched the image, these got so big, their halos make them look like `candidate satellite galaxies'. I still haven't figured out how to make a star mask that isolates only the brightest stars.

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