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Out there

Between the serpents

Mark Wagner


“The effort to get to darker skies is small and the rewarding views so many.”


Edge on galaxy in Virgo, NGC 5746 by Andreas Domenico

Elliptical galaxy NGC 5846 and one of three others nearby by Andreas Domenico

NGC 5907 — the classic edge-on galaxy in Draco by Andreas Domenico


Last month's "Out there" centered on April 26. New moon has gradually shifted to the beginning/end of the month, so let's "re-time" things to coincide with the arrival of your newsletter.

This article is for May 3rd new moon weekend. I've selected a two-hour observing window between R.A. 13:38 and 15:38, rising in the east at astronomical dark. We'll travel from the serpent of the north - Draco - to the southern serpent - Hydra.

Begin with NGC 5907 (15 15.0 +56 19) in Draco. Locate Thuban between Alcor in the Big Dipper and the end bowl stars in the Little Dipper. Follow Draco toward the Keystone in Hercules to mag 3.3 star Edasich then hop just under 3° WSW. This mag 10.3 edge on galaxy (12.6'x1.4') is sharp and shows a great dust lane.

NGC 5473 (14 04.7 +54 54) - find Alcor and Alkaid, the two end stars of the Big Dipper's handle. Imagine a right angle east of these stars, placing you close to M101. If you land on M101 move about 1/2° north. At mag 11.4 this 2.3'x1.7' eliptical galaxy should be easy to see. From the Shingletown Star Party last year, observers were picking off a number of fainter galaxies in this area.

Continue about 6-1/2° southeast, in Bootes. If you use a Telrad, get mag 4.4 Theta Bootis on the northwest outer circle. A pair of mid-mag 5 stars will be near the center, and NGC 5676 (14 32.0 +49 27) should be between them. This mag 11.2 type C spiral is 4.0'x1.9' was easily visible from my Los Gatos backyard in mag 4.2 skies with a 14.5" dob.

Just under 1° SSE you will find NGC 5689 (14 35.0 +48 44). In a good dark sky this area is rich in galaxies. On the same night from my backyard it too was fairly obvious, which it should be since at mag 11.9 it is nearly as bright as 5676. My notes say it is smaller (3.5'x1.0') than 5676, and elongated E/W with a bright core.

Next is NGC 5557 (14 18.0 +36 29), a nice mag 11 eliptical galaxy. Easy to locate using in northern Bootes with mag 3.9 Nekkar (the top of the kite) imagine a line to mag 3 Seginus (the western star in the kite) and continue 6° further. From Lake Sonoma's dark skies with her 17.5" dob, Jane Houston Jones writes "NGC 5544, 5545 and 5557. a nice trio. all three fit in the field of view at 125x with a 16 Nagler. They barely squeeze into the 9 Nagler view."

7° to the west is NGC 5273 (13 42.0 +35 39) a 2.8'x2.5' eliptical galaxy in Canes Venatici. There are three stars under mag 5 in the area, two close together. The outer circle on a Telrad will just touch the two outer stars, and put the galaxy nearby. From my backyard with a 14.5" dob I wrote "The galaxy is between the mag 4.8 and mag 6 star, just to the east. Its dim glow is round and featureless, but it is there, and fun to find."

Jump south over 23° into Virgo. From 5273, find mag 2.7 star Murphid, the bright one just west of Arcturus. Continue toward mag 4.2 Tau Virginis. Located between two mag 6 stars north of Tau is NGC 5363 (13 56.0 +05 15) a mag 10.1 irregular galaxy measuring 4.1'x2.6' and NGC 5364 (13 56.0 +05 00) a mag 10.5 6.8'x4.4' spiral galaxy. There are five galaxies here under mag 13.5 that will fit into one eyepiece field. Matthew Marcus with a C8 writes from Lake Sonoma "A nice trio. 63 is the brightest. 64 is fainter but larger, round and with no obvious core. 60 is much smaller and fainter. I couldn't find 5373 which should be there."

13° east is the mag 3.7 star 109 Virginis and NGC 5746 (14 44.0 +01 57). At 7.4'x1.3' this pretty edge on mag 10.3 spiral is described by William Schultz from Henry Coe State Park "This edge-on galaxy is superb! The dust lane was quite evident and the overall texture of the object appeared granular through the C-11."

Move 4-1/2° east of 109 Virginis, just past mag 4.4 110 Virginis to find the mag 10 4.1'x3.8' eliptical galaxy NGC 5846 (15 06.0 +01 36). Randy Muller, observing under Mt. Lassen's mag 7 skies writes about "a small group of 4 galaxies in a row: NGC 5850, 5846, 5845, and 5839. These are each about 10 arcminutes apart and are regularly spaced almost on a line. Two of them are very bright, and two are fairly dim, though still easy to see."

From 109 Virginis drop due south to mag 3.9 107 Virginis, and then imagine a line west to mag 4.1 99 Virginis. Halfway between is a mag 6 star, just to its east is NGC 5634 (29 00.0 -05 58), a nice unresolved globular cluster. Only 4.9' in size, this mag 9.4 object should be easy. From Henry Coe, Jamie Dillon writes "Off in SE Virgo is an interesting globular, NGC 5634. At 210x it showed a ragged edge, bright core, didn't resolve, so it really did look like a galaxy. Looked distant, and sure enough it's marked as 70 kly away."

Web site addresses:
Shingletown Star Party:
Jump almost 19° southeast into the center of Libra. We're after globular cluster NGC 5897 (15 17.0 -21 00), three times the size as the previous globular at 12.6', but not much brighter at mag 8.6. Look for mag 3.9 Gamma Librae and to its south, mag 3.2 Sigma Librae. The globular is slightly toward Sigma between the two stars. It is interesting comparing it to globulars of similar size. Look at nearby M5, then at 5897. Others you may want to view are NGC 5053 (next to M53) in Coma Berenices and NGC 5466 (compare it to nearby M3) near where our tour began, up in Bootes.

Our last object this month is another globular cluster which makes sense. As we approach summer skies and the plane of our galaxy, we are bound to see more of this class of object. NGC 5694 (14 39.36 -26.32) is a mottled globular at 4.2', its mag 10 should give a reasonable surface brightness. Easy to locate in easternmost Hydra, start at Sigma Librae, moving 4° SSW to 58 Hydrae and following the chain of stars north. Placing the chain of stars inside the western edge of your Telrad should put the globular in view. Bob Jardine observed it from Montebello OSP, in the hills above Palo Alto, and writes "a very distant globular in Hydra; according to one book I have, it is fully 110,000 LY away! No surprise, it was smaller and dimmer than your average GCs."

If you are interested in experiencing the magic of real dark skies this summer, two upcoming star parties fit the bill, with lots of fun with plenty of friendly observers. The Shingletown Star Party near Mount Lassen in late June and CalStar at Lake San Antonio in late September. You need not be an experienced deep sky observer to enjoy these events ... they are geared for ages 8 to 80. Remember too, there are many good observing sites within an hour drive of the bay area. Look at TAC's website to see where observers you read about in these articles are going.

The effort to get to darker skies is small and the rewarding views so many. So, get up, and get "Out there."


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