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Does the world really need another photo of the Andromeda Galaxy?

Here’s why I’m asking…

Do a quick search for “M31 the Andromeda Galaxy” on Google, or one of the many photo-sharing websites and you will find hundreds, if not thousands, of gorgeous images of our nearest galactic neighbour.

And it’s not just M31 that’s subjected to this incessant coverage by the astronomical paparazzi. M42 the Great Nebula in Orion, M51 the Whirlpool galaxy, M8 and M20 the Lagoon and Trifid nebulae, all appear thousands of times. These objects, along with a handful of others, form a sort of “Greatest Hits” of modern astrophotography.

Often, the best images are shot by amateurs using fairly modest off-the-shelf equipment. No longer the domain of large observatories perched on remote mountains, astrophotography is being done every day by amateur astronomers – often from the light-polluted glow of large cities.

This glut of gorgeous images can be traced to three key technical advances:

• the availability of inexpensive DSLR cameras, which can be re-purposed for astrophotography
• the popularity of short-focus, wide-field telescopes on computerized mounts
• the affordability of personal computers with powerful graphics and image processing capabilities

The combination of fast, short-focus telescopes with the relatively large sensors in modern DSLR cameras provides the perfect field of view for many of the most impressive deep-sky objects. Plus, even low-end personal computers can now perform sophisticated image processing – including the ability to stack dozens of short-exposure photos into a single low-noise image.

Advances in each of these technologies has led to a democratization of amateur astrophotography. As early adopters post their images on-line – along with detailed descriptions of their equipment and post-processing techniques – the door is opened for other dedicated amateurs to follow in their footsteps. As these astrophotographers improve on the initial techniques, and post their results online the cycle repeats. The result is an ever expanding global library of breathtaking images.

So, does the world really need another photo of M31?

I’m not sure the world needs another photo, but I certainly do. I’ve derived such a sense of joy from photographing this object. I love the challenge of learning new skills and trying new techniques to solve problems. I may never climb Mt Everest, but I’m certainly looking forward to reaching new heights in my astrophotography.

What do you think?