Astronomy Essentials

Want to find the Andromeda galaxy? Here are 2 ways

Red-lit star party scene beneath starry sky including Andromeda galaxy.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Irwin Seidman caught the ambience of a red-lit star party on Bruce Peninsula, Ontario, Canada, on August 12, 2023. See the Andromeda galaxy high overhead? Wonderful photo, Irwin. Thank you.

2 ways to find the Andromeda galaxy

Take a night to drive to a dark sky and find the glorious Andromeda galaxy. It’s the great spiral galaxy next door to the Milky Way, and the most distant object you can see with your eye alone. It’s best seen in the evening at this time of year. Most people find the galaxy by star-hopping from the constellation Cassiopeia the Queen, a very noticeable M- or W-shaped pattern on the sky’s dome. But you can also find the Andromeda galaxy by star-hopping from the star Alpheratz in the Great Square of Pegasus. Both methods will lead you to the galaxy. Check out the charts below and find your favorite.

Find the Andromeda galaxy by star-hopping from Cassiopeia

Find the Andromeda galaxy: Star chart of constellations Cassiopeia and Andromeda with labeled Andromeda galaxy between them.
Here’s the technique most people use to find the Andromeda galaxy. Just be sure you’re looking in a dark sky. First, look northward for the M- or W-shaped constellation Cassiopeia the Queen. Next, locate the star Schedar in Cassiopeia. It’s the constellation’s brightest star, and it points to the Andromeda galaxy. Chart via Chelynne Campion.

Find the Andromeda galaxy by star-hopping from the Great Square

Star chart with Great Square, Mirach and Andromeda constellation outlined and Andromeda galaxy marked.
Here’s another way to find the Andromeda galaxy. The constellation Andromeda can be seen as 2 streams of stars extending from 1 side of the Great Square of Pegasus. See the star Alpheratz? It joins Pegasus to Andromeda. Now, notice the star Mirach, followed by Mu Andromedae. An imaginary line drawn through Mirach to Mu points to the Andromeda galaxy. Chart via Chelynne Campion.

The importance of a dark sky

Just be aware … Bright moonlight or city lights can overwhelm the faint glow of the Andromeda galaxy. The single most important thing you need to see this object is a dark sky.

What does the galaxy look like to the eye? In a dark sky, it appears as a large fuzzy patch, bigger than a full moon in the sky but vastly fainter and more subtle.

Binoculars enhance the view

Binoculars are an excellent choice for beginners to observe the Andromeda galaxy, because they are so easy to point. As you stand beneath a dark sky, locate the galaxy with your eye first. Then slowly bring the binoculars up to your eyes so that the galaxy comes into binocular view. If that doesn’t work for you, try sweeping the area with your binoculars. Go slowly, and be sure your eyes are dark-adapted. The galaxy will appear as a fuzzy patch to the eye. It’ll appear brighter in binoculars. Can you see that its central region is more concentrated?

With the eye, binoculars, or with a backyard telescope, the Andromeda galaxy won’t look like the images from famous telescopes and observatories. But it will be beautiful. It’ll take your breath away.

Small, yellowish, oval-shaped cloud with brighter center in star field with a nearby thin, bright green streak.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Karthik Easvur in Madurai, Tamilnadu, India, knows how to find the Andromeda galaxy! He captured this wide-field view of the galaxy, complete with a meteor, on September 3, 2022. He wrote: “I was taking a timelapse of the Andromeda galaxy from my balcony. When I reviewed the images, I found a green-colored meteor along with the Andromeda galaxy. It was a lucky shot.” Lucky indeed! Beautiful shot, Karthik, thank you!

Bottom line: Our neighboring Andromeda galaxy – the nearest large spiral galaxy to the Milky Way – is visible on dark, moonless evenings from now until the beginning of northern spring. Here are two ways to find it.

August 22, 2023
Astronomy Essentials

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