The conversation usually goes like this , ” look at this galaxy”, “oh ! Is that it ?” It’s either that or you can’t find them. Before spring arrives with its richness of galaxies , this short piece might help your observing .
More galaxies will be visible in the winter mornings and in spring as we turn away from our galaxy ( the Milky Way) and look out into space .
You’ll need reasonably dark sky without the moon and make sure that your eyes are dark adapted. This might take up to twenty minutes and includes using the dullest red head torch .
Galaxies occur gregariously in groups and clusters. Often you can get several in your view. They can have a bright active core , generally they are faint. This means that you will need contrast to see them, you can achieve this by magnification. Notice how much darker your view gets from x50 to x150.
Searching around with any light pollution, I’d use x50. If you get you a dark site, it’s wonderful to see whole fields at x30.However using too much magnification on galaxies will mean that you’re seeing right through them. I use from x50 -x80, even x120 for a really bright one with transparent skies. Binocular targets at x15 include M81 & M82, M51, M33 and M31.
A good rough guide is that if the galaxy has a name ,”Sunflower”,”Black eye” etc. in addition to a catalogue number ,then it has features that you can observe.
Aperture is quite important here. Small apertures will pick out the brightest, I started with the lovely 5″ Skywatcher Heritage Dobsonian. For further enjoyment , anything from 6″ upwards is great. 8″will reward you with good views. Anything larger and you must consider cost, weight , transport, storage and coma produced by short scopes.
You’re not going to see coloured Hubble images. At best shapes, dust lanes , cores and halos can be enjoyed. Some famed sights are very difficult, the Leo trio usually appears as two galaxies. The third makes up the eyes and a grin, but needs dark sky.
Edge on galaxies will look brighter than face on spirals ,where the light is more spread out. Dark dust lanes can be seen such as in M31. Small bright galaxies are easier to see as the light will be spread over larger galaxies , even if brighter magnitude.
Let’s pick out some good ones and what you can see.All these are possible using 6″ of aperture and above
The Andromeda Galaxy , M31, M32 and M101. Huge and visible by eye. They can be fully appreciated in binoculars, with signs of dust lanes.
NGC 891, a real beauty from dark skies , with a bulge and dust Lane.
NGC 2403 (+8.9) very bright.
The “Whirlpool galaxy”, M51 superimposed on NGC 5185. A real treat to see the spiral “connecting” bridge.
M94, very bright glow between Cor Caroli and Chara.
Now we come to lots of fainter but observable galaxies,
M106 one of the brightest showing an elongated streak.
M63, the “Sunflower galaxy”. +8.6, grainy appearance.
NGC 4449 (C21) +9.8 and about the only one to resolve into stars, a favourite.
NGC 4631 +9.3, the “Whale”, I’ve spotted the arc shape.
NGC 4656/57 +10.4,the “Hockey Stick”, hook shape spotted.
NGC 4244 (C26) +10.2. Edge on spiral.
NGC 4214 +9.7, irregular galaxy.
NGC 4111 +10.8, egg shaped.
NGC 4490 +9.8, the “cocoon”.
NGC 5005 (C29) +9.8, bright spiral.
NGC 5033 +10.2, bright spiral.
NGC 147 +9.5
NGC 185 +9.2.
NGC 6946 +9.6, the “Fireworks galaxy”, face on spiral.
M77 +9.5, core and halo.
NGC 247 , difficult.
M64 +9.3, the “Black eye galaxy”, elongate with a dark dust lane .With 150mm a dark area one side of the core.
M85 +9.2 one of the brightest, belonging to the Virgo cluster.Star like centre.
M88 +10.3, difficult giving an elongated shape.Faint.
M91 +10.9 Difficult.
M98 +10.9 glow.Faint by averted.
M99 +10.4, bright halo and core.
M100, brightest with halo and core.
NGC 4559 +10.5 , halo and mottling.
NGC 4565 +9.6, one of the most beautiful edge on galaxies , dust lanes, halo and mottling, the “needle galaxy” or “little sombrero”.A favourite in an 8″ Newtonian.
NGC 4038/9 the colliding “Antennae”.
NGC 5907 +11.1 edge on with a dust lane.
NGC 6207 +11.6, nice challenge away from M13.
M83 +7.9, difficult face on spiral.
The Leo Triplet, ( group 1) M65 +10.2, dark lane. M66 +9.6, edge on. NGC 3628, more elusive.
Three in a group,
M95 +9.7, halo and bright centre.
M105 +10.2, circular patch and core.
NGC 2903 +9.6, another favourite with a bright nucleus and streak, high in Leo’s head.
NGC 2683 +9.7 the “UFO galaxy”. Another favourite with 8″ aperture.Plenty detail here.
NGC 2537 +11.7 the “bears paw galaxy”. Small knots give the name.
NGC 7331 (C30) +9.5,another favourite.
NGC 1023 +9.4 A great favourite, minimum to view , 8″.The nearest lenticular galaxy.
NGC 3115 +10.1 The lovely core of the “Spindle galaxy”.
M33 , the “Triangulum galaxy” , knots and spiral arms from a dark site , including the
emission nebula NGC 604. A huge , glorious sight.
NGC 672 +11.6.
NGC 953 +10.9 Faced on with stars embedded.
Bode’s Nebula, M81 and M83 (“Cigar galaxy”) , can be difficult to find first time. They’re not in line with a diagonal across the plough. Just pull out of the “pan”. There are no guiding stars anywhere near. You’ll get both in the field of view (fov) at x50. They show the difference between a long edge on galaxy and the round flat facing galaxy. The supernova in 2014 was quite easy to spot in M82. There’s some structure here and brightness differences.
M101 +8.3 face on. Very large and difficult. Mottling if you get it.
M108 +10.9 glow in the same fov as M97 (“Owl nebula”).
M109 +10.8, spiral , mottled with a slight core.
NGC 3675 +11.0 core and halo with 6″ aperture.
NGC 3726 +10.9 difficult glow.
Some views with 10″ aperture,
NGC 2768 +10, bright.
NGC 2787 +10.8, bright.
NGC 2685 +11.1, long.
NGC 2841 +10.2, halo and core. Bright at x 120.
NGC 2976 +10.8
NGC 2985 +10.5, bright.
NGC 3077 +9.9, bright.
NGC 3079 +11.5 , bright halo and core.
NGC 3184 +10.4 , dim, face on spiral.
NGC 3310 +10.9 , bright with core.
NGC 3348 +11.2, bright streak.
NGC 3556 +10.1, by averted.
NGC 4026 +11.7 , edge on streak.
NGC 4088 +11.2 bright.
NGC 3877 +11.8 faint.
NGC 3941 +11.3, halo and bright core.
NGC 4605 +10.9 , bright core.
Virgo. There are some 3000 members of the Virgo cluster.
M84 +10.2 , oval with core.
M86 +9.3 , bright with intense core.
Catch both at x40, bright with central condensation.
M87 , at the heart of the Virgo cluster, eight times the size of the Milky Way.Some 4000 globular clusters here and an active jet 500,000 light years exiting from the core. Fuzzy and fabulous, typical of elliptical galaxy view. X120 gives strong central condensation.
M104 +9.1, the “Sombrero galaxy”), with 6″, a dark lane across the nucleus.
M59 x120 in 150mm gives a uniform patch with a stellar core,like M87.
Markarian’s Chain is four galaxies in the fov, M84,M86, NGC 4435 and NGC 4430. A stunning view from the New Forest.
“The Eyes” refer to NGC 4535 and NGC 4538 and another pair,
NGC 4216 (“silver streak “) and NGC 4435.
“The Siamese Twins” refer to NGC 4567 and NGC 4568.
Pleny to observe , especially with spring coming and those seasonal galaxy treasures,