Masterpieces Messier Missed

by Jeff Bondono

WASP: October, 1995 - May, 1996

Table of Contents

October, 1995

NGC 7510 at 23h11.5m +60d34'

This is the first installment of a monthly column I'll be writing about the best non-Messier deep-sky objects. Don't let this scare you away. Remember that the Double Cluster is not in Messier's catalog, but is quite easy to see. This month's object, NGC 7510, is a very small but brilliantly sparkly open cluster in Cepheus, just across the border from Cassiopeia. Ths cluster is 4' by 2' in extent, aligned northeast to southwest, and the total light from all stars in the cluster combines to equal that of an 8th magnitude star. The brightest star in the cluster is magnitude 9.7. Professionals count 60 stars in this cluster. From the back yard at my house in Madison Heights ten years ago, I counted 17 stars with my 8" Newtonian. I noted that the cluster had a Y-shape with the top half of the Y filled in with faint stars. At lower powers, the cluster looks like a very small jewel of nebulosity floating among the stars of the Milky Way. The brightest star in the cluster is reddish, and is placed on the northeast end of the cluster, at the base of the Y shape. NGC 7510 is well-placed for viewing now, and is bright enough to be easily seen with a 4" or larger scope from skies comparable to those of Stargate Observatory. It is plotted on chart 3 of Sky Atlas 2000. The small triangle of stars including Delta, Zeta, and Epsilon Cepheus will point just a bit south of it. Give it a try and share your observations with other members at an upcoming club meeting.

November, 1995

NGC 752 at 01h58m +37d41'

If you saw last month's cluster, you'll have no problem with this one. Located about half way between M33 and m34, NGC 752 is a really large and splashy open cluster of bright stars. Its 50' in size, so use your lowest magnification. The integrated magnitude of the cluster is 5.7, and the brightest star in the cluster is 9th magnitude. It happens to be one of the oldest open clusters known, at about 1.5 million years of age. There's a triple star just south of the center of the cluster that I see as orange, blue and red, from brightest to faintest. In my 8" scope from my backyard in Utica, I counted 75 stars. A prominent central 15' by 8' football-shaped knot of 20 stars was seen, with a 15' round area just southwest of it which contains only 1 11th magnitude star. Other than this overdense and underdense region, the stars are failrly evenly distributed. I saw a nice chain of stars at the southwest edge of the cluster. Since the cluster is so large, remember that you might be looking right at it and not notice. Be sure to look in your finder if you have one, or if you don't, scan the adjacent fields for a much lesser concentration of stars. With 7x50 binoculars, I saw a 45'x30' oval glow aligned east-west, with a few resolved stars. The brightest was at the sougheast edge. I have not yet looked at this cluster with my 14 (and 3/8)-inch scope, but for those of you with scopes larger than 8", you might be able to look through the star cluster to the galaxy cluster Abell 262 beyond. Beware, these galaxies are very faint, but if you can see them it should be quite an unusual contrast in distances. For the star cluster to be so large, it must be fairly nearby, and indeed its distance is only 1200 light years, about 3 times the distance to the Pleiades. The distance to the galaxy cluster is, of course, considerably larger.

December, 1995

NGC 891 at 02h23m +42d21'

I held off for two months, but I can no longer resist mentioning a galaxy. NGC 891 is a gorgeous edge-on spiral galaxy which can be seen in a 6" scope, and perhaps a smaller one. The integrated magnitude is 9.9, and the size is a whopping 13'x2'. Located in Andromeda, this galaxy is 19 minutes of right ascension east of the colorful yellow-and-blue double star Gamma Andromedae. If you have trouble finding it, a sure bet is to center Gamma Andromedae in your scope and turn off the drive for 19 minutes. In light-polluted skies, I could just barely glimpse this galaxy in my 8" scope with averted vision, but the same scope in country skies showed a 10'x2' pretty-bright glow, oriented approximately north-south, with a 12th magnitude star at both ends. The galaxy was widest in the central third, and tapered gradially as I scanned toward the north and south ends. An 11th magnitude star was located about half way from the center to the north edge. The thing that makes this galaxy a masterpiece, though, is that is has a very wide equatorial dark lane cutting it in half. I could just barely see that dust lane in the southern half of the galaxy with the 8" scope from country skies, but not the northern half. The 14.5" scope showed the galaxy to be 13'x2', aligned in position angle 20, with a thin equatorial dark lane that showed easily at 131x with averted vision. The northern half of the galaxy appeared slightly brighter and wider than the southern half, but the dark lane was easier to see in the southern half. This galaxy should be easily seeable in an 8" scope from Stargate Observatory with its nearly overhead during November-January. The club 12.5" scope should make it a breeze. For a recent picture of this galaxy, see page 109 of the April 1995 Astronomy magazine, or page 100 of the April 1993 Sky and Telescope magazine.

January, 1996

NGC 1502 at 04h08m +62d20'

This open cluster is a really pretty 8' collection of about 30 6th to 13th magnitude stars. I saw it easily from the severely light-polluted skies of Madison Heights just 6 weeks after I took delivery on my 8" scope in 1984. That a beginner could see this cluster is a testament to its tight packing and isolation from other field stars. Its a bit difficult to find, being located in that vast wasteland of the sky known as Camelopardalis, but is worth the effort to find. To me, the cluster looks like an arrowhead pointing toward the northwest, with a 9th magnitude star at the forward tip and a V-shape of stars at the back. That V-shape holds the brightest 10 stars in the cluster. Other people see different shapes. One person I know of sees the cluster as a crossbow formed with 2 symmetric curving lines of stars which join at their ends. One end meets in a small circlet of stars. Three other deep sky objects are within NGC 1502. Right at the vertex of the back V-shape of stars (on the southeast edge of the cluster) is the multiple star Struve 485, with bright members of 6th and 7th magnitude and 3 fainter members. The 2 brightest components are separated by 18" in position angle 304. The fainter of those is the second embedded deep-sky object, the variable star SZ Cam. This small amplitude variable star ranges from 7.0 to 7.3 magnitude, with a period of only 2.7 days. The third deep-sky object in NGC 1502 is Struve 484, a pair of 9th magnitude stars separated by 5" in position angle 132. I didn't ever note seeing this double, so fill me in when you see it. A pretty yellow-blue apparent double star (which I don't find in any of my catalogs) is located about 10' west of Struve 485. Be sure and look at the cluster in either binoculars or your finderscope, too. Its located at the southern end of an asterism called Kemble's Cascade, or Harrington 3. That asterism is a 2.5 degree-long chain of about 24 5th to 9th magnitude stars running southeast that "flow like a mountain brook dashing down a steep gorge", according to Walter Scott Houston on page 223 of the February 1991 Sky and Telescope. If I ever get that flowery in my descriptions, just shoot me.

February, 1996

NGC 2158 at 06h07m +24d06'

This open cluster might just be my favorite one of all the non-Messier cluster I know of. It's certainly among the easiest to find, being just 30' southeast from M35. I couldn't see this cluster from Madison Heights, but from Stargate it should be visible in an 8" scope as a 5' angelfish-shaped misty patch. Crank up the power, and you should be able to resolve this glow into many of the 150 very faint member stars. The cluster is extremely rich, compressed and very well-detached from the field stars. Once you get in the area, if you're at a dark enough sky there's no mistaking it. The brightest member stars that I've seen are a 10th magnitude star in the center of the southern edge of the cluster, and a line of 12th magnitude stars running along the western edge. My 14.5" scope at 478x resolved about 30 stars on a night with high transparency by poor seeing. A better night should resolve more. The distance that I have in my database for M35 is 2800 light years. NGC 2158 is listed at 16000 light years, almost 6 times as far.

March, 1996

pk205+14.1 at 07h29m +13d15m

This planetary nebula will be a real challenge for those who decide to try to find and see it, but should provide an unusually interesting sight for those who do. It also goes by the names of Abell 21, Sharpless 2-274, and the Medusa Planetary. The planetary shines with the light of a 13th magnitude star, holds a 16th magnitude central star which I've never seen, and has a size of a whopping 10'x6'. I've never tried for this object in my 8" scope, but the 14" showed it quite easily, so I think its in the range of a 10" scope, or perhaps an 8". As with many planetary nebulae, it benefits greatly from the use of a nebula filter like the UHC, so don't be scared away by its faint magnitude. A UHC will make the 12th magnitude Owl Nebula (M97) appear quite bright, and this one's only one magnitude fainter.

The treat in this object is the extremely unusual shape. The best way I can describe it is as a 5-day-old moon. The part of the "moon" shape which is aglow is the eastern arc of the imagined round circle of the entire "moon". There's a 12th magnitude star on the northeast edge of the glow, right on the limb of the moon, about 30 degrees of position angle from one of the points of the crescent. The cresent seems brightest near that star. I also saw a 14th magnitude star right at the center of the "terminator" and a 15th magnitude star inside the glow of the south-southwest point. To help you find the object, a 7th magnitude star is only 20' north-northeast from the planetary. If you're like me and appreciate having a picture to help you find faint objects, you'll find one in Sky and Telescope September 1995, page 8 and in Deep Sky Magazine, Summer 1989, page 29. The planetary is a mere 650 light years away, one third the distance to the Ring Nebula (M57) and double the distance to the Helix Nebula (NGC 7293).

April, 1996

NGC 3628 at 11h20m +13d35m

This galaxy is part of the Leo Triplet, with M64 and M65. Located just 2/3 of a degree north of those two bright Messier galaxies in the hind leg of Leo, this fainter galaxy should be seeable in an 8-inch scope from Stargate-grade skies. During April of 1987 with my 8" Newtonian at my home in Utica, the galaxy showed as a very faint 8' by 1' glow, running nearly east-west. Four years later, from Imlay City, the galaxy appeared as a wider 8' by 2' east-west sliver, but still with no details beside the soft glow of this sliver of light. Another three years passed before I had another glimpse of this galaxy, this time at the Hawthorne Hollow site. Here I measured the position angle to be 110 degrees, saw mottling at 122x power and finally noticed that the core of the galaxy was much brighter than the overall glow. Two more years put us at 1994, and my first opportunity to view with my 14.5" scope. This scope showed the galaxy again as an 8' by 2' oval, with a couple of 14th magnitude stars superimposed. The north and south edges looked too sharp to be the edge of a galaxy (which generally fades very gradually to background sky). After further study I could see an extremely faint 4' by 0.5' glow running parallel to the main body of the galaxy, just 0.5' south of its southern edge. I logged that "maybe I'm seeing a dark lane running through this galaxy". Apparently I was; the dark lane shows well in Burnhams, page 1074. Last spring, again at Imlay City, Riyad Matti and I had a look at the galaxy again. This time I noted that a dust lane was obvious, running across nearly the entire length of the galaxy. Riyad mentioned that he could see that the ends of the galaxy flared outward, making the outer edges of the spiral arms of this galaxy wider than the part half-way from the center to the edges, a very unusual configuration. After he mentioned it, I could indeed see this feature very faintly in the eastern end, but not on the western end. Riyad always sees things which are a bit fainter than I can see. Aargh. We looked at the pictures of the galaxy that I had, and found that the flares he saw are well shown in Astronomy, March 1992, page 73, but not at all on the picture from "The Universe from your Backyard", page 109.

So that's 5 personal observations of this galaxy over an 8-year period. Each view gave me a bit more detail, partly because I used a larger scope for the last two, partly because observing skills improve with time, and partly because I had a record of past observations each time I decided to try it again. I strongly recommend you take observing notes and refer to them, so you can push yourself to see more and more as the years go by. If nothing else, it sure brings a smile to my face when I read through them.

I'd be interested in hearing observing reports of this galaxy with any sized scope, and getting a view through your scope if we're observing together. What size scope shows the dark lane? Be sure to use your averted vision, and give your brain some time to study the image. Will Bock's Monster let even me see the flared wings on BOTH ends of the galaxy?

May, 1996

NGC 4565 at 12h36m20.6s +25d59m20s

Right in the heart of our May evening sky lies one of the finest edge-on galaxies in the sky for amateur observers. Though Messier saw most of the very best galaxies, this is one he missed. (He must not have been into edge-on galaxies as much as me.) The December 1995 Masterpiece was a similar galaxy, NGC 891. Other great springtime edge-on's are featured in April 96's Sky and Telescope, pages 92-95. Tom likes edge-on's, too.

My first 3 observations of this galaxy, using my 8" Newtonian in 1986-8 Utica (with light pollution a bit worse than today's Stargate) told only of a 4'x1' glow, running northwest to southeast. Apparently this galaxy doesn't take to light pollution well. Most don't.

During 1991, the 8" at Imlay City showed an 8'x2' overall galaxy, made of a bright 3'x2' central core with a fainter 8'x1' spike of edge-on spiral arms cutting through it. Within the core was a much brighter 3'x1' inner core, everthing oriented in the same direction. A star just northeast of the outer core followed the galaxy across my eyepiece. Pictures of this galaxy show a prominent dust lane cutting across the core, but comparing the 122x eyepiece view with a picture showed me I just couldn't see any glow from the smaller and fainter "half" of the core on the other side of the dust lane. I tried for quite a while, without success. But I learned that if anyone ever asks if you "Can see the dust lane ?", the answer, of course, is "Yes". Dust lanes (like dark nebulae) are Always visible. Its the faint glow surrounding them that's the trick!

The 14.5" scope at Imlay City in 1994-5 finally showed the dust lane. In fact, the dust lane showed so plainly that I'd suspect the 8" was just a little bit undersized. Maybe a 10" scope and a sharp-eyed observer will see the glow of the core on both sides of the dust lane. The galaxy had grown to 13'x3' overall, with very faint and thin outer extents of the arms. The 3'x2.5' central bulge was cut into thirds by the dust lane running through its northeastern half. The lane visibly cut into the arms outside the core, too, giving it an overall length of 5'. This most photogenic of galaxies finally looked much like the pictures. But right near the dust lane, within the larger 2/3 of the core, was a stellar nucleus. The clear spike of light from that nucleus showed that the eye, so often beaten by film, can reveal sights in the sky which burn out into oblivion in those same gorgeous photographs.

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This page was created by Jeff Bondono, and last changed on May 27, 1996.