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Look into the night sky at a nice, dark site and you will see a glowing band that, if it is a truly dark site, appears to pass right across the sky. Known by the clumsy name of the Milky Way this is the view across the disk of our own galaxy.

The Milky Way

Look at the Milky Way through a telescope and the sheer number of stars on view can be overwhelming. This is the Milky Way near Cygnus, and although light cloud has affected the picture you can see how the whole view is full of stars. The slightly darker patch running diagonally down from top right is the 'Great Rift' where a cloud of cold, dark gas and dust is masking part of the Milky Way.

The Milky Way near Cygnus

The Milky Way near Cygnus

Andromeda Galaxy, M31

The Andromeda Galaxy is our nearest neighbour in intergalactic space that isn't part of or orbiting the Milky Way. It is a huge spiral galaxy with two smaller galaxies gravitationally bound to it. To the naked it can be seen in dark skies as a fuzzy spot between Andromeda and Cassiopeia. You should be able to see that although it appears like a dim star, it is more 'spread out' than a star.

Andromeda Galaxy

To the naked eye, the Andromeda Galaxy is just a fuzzy spot

Turn a telescope on Andromeda, and it is transformed. In a really dark sky it becomes obvious that it is several times the size of the full moon, and its companion Galaxies appear.

This photograph only covers about the central one-third of the Andromeda Galaxy, Messier Object number M31.The faint dark lines above the core are dust lanes, just like the Great Rift. The 'fuzzy blob' at bottom right is galaxy M32, M101 is outside this picture.

The central; part of the Andromeda Galaxy (M31) also showing Galaxy M32

The central part of the Andromeda Galaxy (M31) also showing Galaxy M32

This second shot shows M32 and M110. The image has rather more detail as it is comprised of 66 80-second exposures taken with a 400mm lens and stacked in DSS.

Andromeda Galaxy M31, with dwarf galaxies M32 and M110

A wider view of the Andromeda Galaxy. Satellite galaxies M32 and M101 are also in shot.

The Pinwheel Galaxy, M101

My personal ambition is to photograph other galaxies, but to do this successfully for fainter galaxies than M31 really means I need to improve my tracking. But though galaxies are faint, they aren't necessarily small - this is the Whirlpool Galaxy M101 above the tail of the Great Bear, it covers an area of sky about half as wide across as the full moon! You can see how much I have had to over-process this shot, but at least the spiral galaxy has been captured. But that's the best thing about astrophotography - even basic kit can get you rewarding results, but there is always something out there to stretch your abilities and equipment to the limit!

M101 Pinwheel Galaxy

The Pinwheel Galaxy, M101, a stack of 30-second images at ISO 1600, longer subs will bring out more detail!

MIrach's Ghost

Mirach is a star in the constellation of Andromeda. A typical star chart will show a small object 'overlapping' Mirach, but actually this is a dwarf galaxy, NGC404 that is slightly to one side of Mirach and rather further away. Mirach's Ghost is actually a 'dwarf galaxy circuiting our own galaxy like the two Magellanic Clouds visible in the southern hemisphere, but further away. I did rather better with this than M101 and was pleased to capture a somewhat difficult object.

Mirachs Ghost NGC404

Mirach's Ghost, NGC404, is the small fuzzy up and to the left of bright Mirach itself.