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Out there

So little time, so much to see!

Mark Wagner

NGC4027 in Corvus at 205x. Sketch by Andreas Domenico.

Galaxy NGC3190 in Leo, as seen in a 20-inch dobsonian at 180x. Sketch by Peter Natscher.

Galaxy NGC3893 in Ursa Major, as seen in a 20-inch dobsonian at 180x. Sketch by Peter Natscher.

Galaxy NGC3953 in Ursa Major, as seen in a 20-inch dobsonian at 180x. Sketch by Peter Natscher.

NGC 3631 in Ursa Major at 205x. Sketch by Andreas Domenico.


If you are new to deep sky observing, welcome to galaxy season. This month's targets fall between right ascension 12:46 and 14:46, and include targets in the rich galaxy fields of Hydra, Corvus, Leo, Leo Minor and Ursa Major.

Galaxy season is the richest and most fun time of year for deep sky observing, but it is possibly the worst weather-wise. If you get a good night or two this month, give yourself that extra push to grab your scope and get out. The weather can turn quickly, daylight is encroaching on night to shorten dark hours, and daylight savings time is here ... all conspire against us. It is far too easy to lose your opportunities to couch potato-ness — and you'll kick yourself upon seeing how fast this observing season passes.

Let's get right into it, which is what I encourage you to do! Objects are listed from south to north with NGC number, RA and Dec, size, magnitude and surface brightness for each object.

NGC3621 — RA 11h 18m 16s Dec -32 48' 42" 12.3'x7.1' 9.7m 14.4 sb — This is a relatively unknown object. My regular observing partner Richard Navarrete described it as huge and bright with a mottled appearance. Track this one down in Hydra, but you'll have to aim your telescope low ... it rests deep to the south below and between Corvus and Crater.

NGC4027 — RA 11h 59m 30.5s Dec -19 15' 44 3.2'x2.4' 11.1m 13.2 sb — Situated between Corvus and Crater, this is an odd, bright galaxy that has obviously suffered tidal disruption. North Bay observer Robert Leyland described it as "an irregular almost S-shaped galaxy. A real treat at 160x, it shows a nice dark region adjacent to a dim field star." I couldn't agree more.

NGC4038 — RA 12h 01m 9s Dec -18 52' 5.2'x3.1' 10.3m 13.1 sb — East Bay observer Bruce Jensen has a wonderful description of this interesting galaxy in Corvus. It is known as the Ring Tail Galaxy or the Antennae. Using an 18-inch Dob, Bruce writes "NGCs4038 and 4039 showed wonderful detail at 290x. Two lopsided lobes were obvious with streamers spiraling away in disarray from these two interacting galaxies. In my old 8-inch telescope, this object was already a worthy quarry; in the 18-inch it is simply a showpiece. A wonderful object under conditions fine enough to permit fine features to shine through." What a winner!

NGC3242 — RA 10h 24m 46.1s Dec -18 38' 34" 40"x35" 7.7m sb — Even though it is galaxy season, there are some other good objects to hunt down. NGC3242 is known as the Ghost of Jupiter, or Eye Nebula. It is a bright planetary nebula in Hydra — in fact, I think it is perhaps the brightest planetary nebula per square arcminute of surface area. Noted bay area observer Steve Gottlieb writes "This beautiful PN has a very high surface brightness and a bluish color at 100x. The view at 280x-380x is stunning with a well-defined double shell structure. The bright, narrow inner ring is surrounded by a second fainter oval envelope. Inside the bright lens is a dark, 10", donut-hole with a faint central star marking the center. In moments of steady seeing, the inner ring has a hard-edge and the central star sharpens up." This one is a must see!

NGC3190 — RA 10h 18m 05.7s Dec +21 49' 57" 4.4'x1.5' 11.1m 13.1 sb. Just north of the beautiful star gamma Leonis, this bright elongated galaxy is an easy find, and shares the field with three equally easy galaxies ranging from mag 12 to 13.5. The group is also known as Hickson 44 and Arp 316. These should be within the reach of even modest apertures in a dark sky. Rashad Al-Mansour from San Francisco wrote of these "3190 sat between NGC3193 and 3185. I sat looking intently and suddenly realized that I was looking at four galaxies not three! The fourth was NGC 3187, a 13.4 magnitude galaxy that I was seeing with an 8" SCT."

NGC3344 — RA 10h 43m 31.9s Dec +24 55' 20" 7.1'x6.5' 9.9m 13.9 sb. Find this rather unknown bright galaxy in Leo Minor. East bay observer Matthew Marcus wrote of this face-on spiral "In the C8, it looks rather like a RN illuminated by the 'pointer' stars. Careful observation shows that the core is non-stellar. It showed hints of spiral structure. This is a large, bright object, which belongs with the "Messier missed 'em" list of objects you can show off.

NGC3893 — RA 11h 48m 38.2s Dec +48 42' 39" 4.5'x2.3' 10.5m 13.3 sb. The first time I saw NGC3893 I thought it was a miniature M51. Located near chi Ursae Majoris — the bright star south of Phecda (the eastern bottom bowl star in the Big Dipper) this galaxy has a close pair in NGC 3896. Stanford researcher David Kingsley describes it this way. "Both visible in the same eyepiece field. 3893 had a bright core, hints of structure, and a star in the halo that would blink on and off neatly with averted and direct vision." David's observation was from Henry Coe State Park in a 7-inch reflector.

NGC3953 — RA 11h 53m 48.8s Dec +52 19' 35" 6.9'x3.5' 10.1m 13.4 sb. Moving back up toward Phecda to find NGC 3953. This elongated spiral is bright and easy to locate. Richard Navarrete described it as a large bright spiral — an excellent object — containing a nice stellar core.

NGC3631 — RA 11h 21m 0s Dec +53 10' 5.0'x4.8' 10.4m 13.7 sb — This wonderful object is located just below the bowl of the Big Dipper, very near M97 and M108. This face-on spiral galaxy has several bright HII regions visible in an 18-inch scope. Jeff Blanchard, observing in Santa Cruz with his 14.5-inch dob writes "it's easier to make out detail at 150x rather than 200x. This face on 6' spiral suddenly brightens at its elongated one minute core, with a suspected dark lane about one minute out from the core.

Just as the springtime observing season ends so quickly, this article has come to an end. There are so many more targets worth visiting. I recommend going to the web-site and use the database to generate a list of other targets to compliment those I've given you here. Again, don't waste the season, this is truly when we can say "so little time — so much to see!"


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