"GO TO"....COMA BERENICES
The Immortalized Amber Tresses of Ptolemy's Queen Enshrined in the Heavens
by: Clay Sherrod
This is our "lucky" thirteenth Constellation Guide, "GO TO COMA BERENICES" of the series "GO TO" TOURS for all GO TO Telescope Users" . We briefly touched on this beautiful and clearly conspicuous constellation in previous constellation guides, but this small constellations - marked clearly as a sprinkling of fairly bright stars forming one of the most beautiful naked eye clusters - really warrants a "GO TO" TOUR of its own.
Coma Berenices gets its name "Berenices' Hair" from the Greek legend concerning the Egyptian leader Ptolemy III (no relation to Ptolemy of astronomy fame) who went to a war so intense that his return was unlikely. As a sacrifice for his safe return, his Queen - Berenices the Second - offered her fiery red (or in some literary references "golden") hair....considered to be the finest and most envious locks in all of Egypt and surrounding lands....
She placed the shorn tresses at the Temple of Aphrodite in the city of Zephyrium to appease the gods for his safety in battle, only one day the hair turned up MISSING after Ptolemy's safe return! Quick thinking in these times by Royal priests and attendants would allow one to keep his or her head in such a situation and the Egyptian astronomer to the King, "Conon", explained that the gods were SO pleased with the deep red and glowing hair of Berenices that they placed it in the skies above so that all could enjoy its beauty.
So in addition to a pile of hair, Coma Berenices is the "Gateway of the Galaxies" from our viewing platform of Earth. For it sets a target through which our line of sight is aimed directly at the richest concentration of galaxies visible to mankind. Large photographic telescopes can detect literally thousands of galaxies in one time exposure photograph.....limited ONLY by the film's ability to detect light. Indeed, all the way to the limiting magnitude of the telescope, the film the electronic sensors, galaxies as far as the mind can imagine fill the sky in the direction of Coma Berenices.
Many of these galaxies are visible in our telescopes, and the larger the aperture, the more galaxies obviously can be seen. It is quite a challenge in and of its own for an observer to attempt to log ALL galaxies visible within his or her telescope within this constellation's very limited borders.
BONUS: IN ADDITION to our regular "GO TO" TOUR for this galaxy field (and, there WILL be a couple of objects thrown in that are NOT galaxies for some relief!) I am providing a complete list of the "major" observable galaxies by NGC (New General Catalog) listings as well......all that are provided can be found in chronological order under "Object/Deep Sky/NGC....." [ then scroll to select the appropriate number ]. In addition, I am providing:
1) NGC number (and Messier # if applicable);
2) R.A. and DEC. coordinates if you chose to enter yourself;
3) visual magnitude;
4) overall dimensions, in minutes (') arc (remember, the moon's disk is 30' arc, Jupiter is just less than 1' arc)
5) the galaxy TYPE (either "S" for spiral, "E" for elliptical, or "Pec" for irregular or peculiar;
6) comments on scope requirements and expected views.
In all, we will have an opportunity to view as many as 30 galaxies within this one tiny constellation!
This gorgeous naked eye cluster is easily found by extending an imaginary line from POLARIS through ALIOTH (in Ursa Major) southward until it intersects with this very bright sprinkling of "star dust", all stars appearing very much the same magnitude, just within reach of the naked eye. Although no galaxies can be seen with them, binoculars offer a spectacular view of this cluster.....also known as "Mel 111." The center coordinates of Mel 111 are: R.A. 12h 23m; DEC + 26 degrees 24m.
The reason for its conspicuousness is that the Coma cluster is only 250 light years away.....this is about half the distance to the famed Pleiades and just a bit farther than our closest star cluster: the Hyades, both in Taurus the Bull. Most stars of this group fall in magnitude between 6.0 and 10.2, the brightest of which are visible to the eye. In terms of star numbers, it has only about 25% as many stars as does the Pleiades and seems to be about the same age as that cluster, but a much younger star group than the Hyades or the other conspicuous naked eye galactic cluster....Praesepe, or the "beehive cluster" in Cancer.
Click for full-size version
You will begin your "GO TO" journey into Berenice's Hair (we really hope she has washed it....) a bit differently than with most of our "GO TO" constellations which always start with the brightest star in that star group. With Coma Berenices you will begin your GO TO with the command "Object/Constellation/Coma Berenices"! Now, that's different....it will take you to the brightest star of the cluster, and hence the constellation itself.
Each GO TO object is discussed for your telescope regarding the type of conditions necessary for you to view it optimally for discern the very faintest details....one double star challenge for all telescopes.....magnifications and aperture necessary for most objects, and much, much more. This is YOUR complete GUIDE to get you on your way to exploring this large and interesting constellation. For a complete listing an descriptions of the multitudes of galaxies visible in this constellation and surrounding regions, consult a good handbook, such as the "Burnham's Celestial Handbook," Vol. 2 for a very comprehensive list of locations, magnitudes and angular separations of these wonderful deep sky objects. There are many galaxies for EVERY telescope size and type.
Indeed, this TOUR will give many of you your first opportunity to view something BESIDES the typical "spiral" galaxy that is so popular....the roundish "elliptical" galaxies abound in this region of our skies, and the irregular galaxies (much like the bright Messier 82 in Ursa Major - (see my Constellation Guide - Ursa Major under GUIDES on this website ) offer a glimpse at the evolutionary cycle of the Universe's most magnificent and mysterious objects.
Use the attached star chart and the following Guide as an excellent reference for your next star party itinerary, or a beginning for further study into the thousands of objects visible in this part of the sky. Merely click on the image above, save your chart to file, open the file and resize to fit your page and PRINT! Truly these extensive Constellation Study Guides will most definitely put your AutoStar to work for you in the most efficient and enjoyable way possible! As an example of how these tours can be loaded successfully into an AutoStar as a custom Tour, visit those for Leo and Bootes which have been compiled and offered through this ASO site under the GUIDES/Constellations.
We hope you enjoy these comprehensive GUIDES to touring the constellations via your AutoStar or PC sky program and its computer-driven telescope. Each new installment is complete with diagrams, charts and illustrations that you will find nowhere else. Please let us hear YOUR feedback and your observations of each and every constellation after YOU have toured its vast reaches of our skies!
YOUR COMA BERENICES CONCISE DIRECTORY OF INTERESTING OBJECTS -
Although there is a "smattering" of other objects in our Coma Berenices "GO TO" TOUR, you will see that this is most definitely a compendium of galaxies.....much like the "GO TO" TOUR for the constellation Ophiuchus posted here on this website under GUIDES/Constellations was for the globular clusters! Indeed, we will find two (2) globulars even in THIS review as well.....both very nice and extremely interesting for comparison!
I have chosen the finest 11 objects in this COMA BERENICES "GO TO" TOUR; as with all GUIDES, all objects listed below will be visible in all telescopes (some naked eye) from the 3-inch through 6-inch; of course larger apertures may "show" an object a bit closer and "better," but frequently a wide field and low power view is more desirable than aperture. Once your eyes are fully dark adapted, you will even be able to see much more detail and the true expanse of the Coma cluster - Mel 111. Nearly twice the number of stars will be visible when the constellation is nearly overhead for northern hemisphere observers (the constellation is nearly overhead - or "culminates" - at midnight during the last week of every March.
As with all of the "GO TO" TOUR constellation lists, I recommend a good star atlas and/or chart which will list all the finest objects, constellation-by-constellation. One very handy reference guide is the PETERSON FIELD GUIDE TO THE STARS AND PLANETS, which features complete lists with declinations, right ascensions, magnitudes, and all pertinent information for you to expand your observing horizons beyond this brief GUIDE.
FOR AUTOSTAR: Note that your AutoStar will NOT have every object listed on every constellation GO TO tour....this is intentional. You can access some of the most interesting objects of the sky directly from their coordinates. It is quite simple as you merely enter these coordinates as follows in the 10-step process:
1) Press the "MODE" key and hold down for 3 seconds and release;
2) Displayed will be the current Right Ascension and Declination of the center of field of view of where your telescope is presently pointed (assuming that you have properly aligned from "home position");
3) [NOTE: if you have the Meade electric focuser attached to any of the ETX or LX telescopes, holding down the "MODE" key will bring up the "Focus" command first....merely scroll (lower right scroll key) down one step to access the RA and DEC to enter your desired coordinates]
4) Press the "GO TO" button on AutoStar;
5) This will change the display and you will note the cursor blinking over the first digit of RIGHT ASCENSION (R.A.); merely use the number keys and dial in the R.A. of the object you are searching for;
6) When done, press "Enter;"
7) This moves the blinking cursor over the "DEC" coordinates;
8) [NOTE: the declination, unlike R.A., can be either positive or negative and you will see the "+" or "-" sign displayed depending on where your telescope is aimed at that time; if it is NOT the desired setting (plus or minus), merely use your arrow key to move the blinking cursor OVER the "+" or "-" sign and change by using either of your lower corner SCROLL KEYS;
9) Proceed to enter the DEC using number keys;
10) Press either "Enter" or "Go To" when finished and the telescope begins slewing to your desired object!!
The constellation tour Star Chart above (click on and save to a file on your PC; then open it and re-size to fit the page and print for a very handy at-the-scope star chart) will get you started on your journey for this constellation.
Following is the concise object list for your "GO TO" TOUR of Coma Berenices; you may wish to find the majority of the objects from the AutoStar Library (for example, you can easily go to the "Black Eye Galaxy" if you pull up "Object/Deep Sky/Messier Object/..type in '64'...." and then press "Enter", followed by "GO TO" to access an incredibly interesting galaxy that appears to have a "hole" in it! In addition, if you have never tried it, go to "Object/Deep Sky/Named...." and scroll to "Black Eye Galaxy" that is in among your AutoStar library....that will get you there just as quickly! LIKEWISE....you can access the same object via AutoStar by going to: "Object/Deep Sky/NGC....." and typing in "4382" as you will do for the NGC listing that follows outside of our normal tour for this constellation. On the other hand, if you want to experiment and become a "better AutoStar user" try entering the exact R.A. and DEC coordinates of that object as described above after holding down the MODE key. You will find the accuracy of entered GO TO's to be somewhat less than those stored in AutoStar, but the capability of acquiring unlisted objects is fantastic!
constellation - COMA BERENICES - (alpha Com) R.A. 13h 08' / DEC + 17 48 - Magnitude: 4.2
double star test - 37 Comae - R.A. 12h 58' / DEC + 31 03 - Mags. 5 & 13 - Perfect test for ETX 90!
wonderful pair of Globulars! - Messier 53 (ngc5024) & ngc5053 - R.A. 13h 11' / DEC + 18 26 - Mag. 8
"BLACK EYE GALAXY" - Messier 64 (ngc4826) - R.A. 12h 54m' / DEC + 21 57 - Mag. 8 - NICE!
Elliptical galaxy - Messier 85 (ngc4382) - R.A. 12h 23' / DEC + 18 28 - Mag. 10.5 - not easy....
Tilted spiral galaxy - Messier 88 (ngc4501) - R.A. 12h 30m / Dec + 14 42 - Mag 10.2 - Elongated shape
Spiral galaxy - Messier 91 (ngc4571) - R.A. 12h 34m / DEC + 14 28 - the "missing" Messier object!
Edge-on spiral galaxy - Messier 98 (ngc4192) - R.A. 12h 11m / DEC + 15 11 - VERY large, dim
"Pinwheel Galaxy" - Messier 99 (ngc4254) - R.A. 12h 16m / DEC + 14 42 - Face-on, very bright!
Spiral galaxy - Messier 100 (ngc4321) - R.A. 12h 20m / DEC + 16 06 - VERY large, face on - NICE
Fantastic edge-on galaxy! - NGC 4565 - R.A. 12h 34m / DEC + 26 16 - "The Needle Galaxy!" WOW
OBJECTS 12 THROUGH 34 - NGC GALAXIES IN COMA BERENICES (other than those listed above)
complete listing of "ngc" galaxies in Coma Berenices in order of RIGHT ASCENSION (and NGC # order):
NOTE: These NGC galaxies are NOT detailed in the following "Visual Guide"
as are those Objects 1-11 listed above...use the abbreviated descriptions as they follow the order:
NGC# / R.A. / DEC / MAGNITUDE / SIZE (in minutes arc -'-) / GALAXY TYPE (S=spiral, E=ellipt;, P=Irr.)
ngc4136 / 12 06 / +30 12 / 12.0 / 3.4 x 2.8 - spiral, face-on, 8-inch+!
ngc4203 / 12 13 / +33 29 / 11.0 / 1.8 x 1.5 - elliptical, tough for 6-8 inch scopes, round blob
ngc4212 / 12 13 / +14 11 / 11.7 / 2.3 x 1.3 - tilted spiral, tough for 3-inch..elongated with 6-inch +
ngc4251 / 12 16 / +28 27 / 10.2 / 2.3 x 0.8 - edge-on spiral, cigar shaped, test for 2.5"; good in 8-inch+
ngc4274 / 12 17 / +29 53 / 10.8 / 6.7 x 1.3 - barred spiral, nice in 8-inch; tough in smaller
ngc4278 / 12 18 / +29 34 / 10.3 / 1.4 x 1.3 - very tiny, starlike; very tough with 3-inch, a spot with larger scopes
ngc4293 / 12 19 / +18 40 / 11.5 / 4.6 x 1.6 - P: irregular very elongated; only seen in 8-inch+
ngc4298 / 12 19 / +14 53 / 11.8 / 2.2 x 1.1 - tilted spiral - VERY hard....may not be seen in 8-inch
ngc4314 / 12 20 / +30 10 / 10.8 / 3.1 x 2.9 - large barred spiral, can be seen in 4-inch but tough
ngc4350 / 12 21 / +16 58 / 11.6 / 1.8 x 0.5 - extremely small, elongated elliptical. A test for the8-inch
ngc4394 / 12 23 / +18 29 / 11.2 / 2.3 x 2.3 - barred spiral, a test for the 5-inch, neat galaxy
ngc4414 / 12 24 / +31 30 / 9.7 / 3.2 x 1.5 - tilted spiral, can be seen steadily in 3-inch; good in larger
ngc4419 / 12 24 / +15 19 / 11.4 / 2.2 x 0.6 - very hard elliptical, very small, starlike in 8-inch
ngc4448 / 12 26 / +28 54 / 11.4 / 2.8 x 1.0 - tilted spiral, seen only in 6-inch+ and larger, cigar shaped
ngc4450 / 12 26 / +17 21 / 10.0 / 3.0 x 2.5 - spiral, fairly large and oval in 3-inch; good in larger scopes
ngc4459 / 12 27 / +14 15 / 10.9 / 1.2 x 1.0 - tiny elliptical, mistaken for star in 4-inch; seen okay in larger
ngc4477 / 12 28 / +13 55 / 10.7 / 2.4 x 2.2 - face-on spiral, visible in 5-inch
ngc4494 / 12 29 / +26 03 / 9.6 / 1.3 x 1.2 - very small elliptical, starlike - visible in 4-inch and up scopes
ngc4548 / 12 33 / +14 46 / 10.8 / 3.7 x 3.2 - tilted spiral, visible in 6-inch as faint elongated glow
ngc4559 / 12 34 / +28 14 / 10.6 / 11.0 x 4.5 - tilted spiral - huge, but VERY dim in 6-8 inch scopes
ngc4689 / 12 45 / +14 01 / 11.8 / 2.4 x 1.8 - tilted spiral - small and very, very dim..tough in even 8"
ngc4725 / 12 48 / +25 46 / 8.9 / 10.0 x 5.5 - very large and easy in 3-inch; may be seen in small APO!
....AND NOW ON WITH THE SHOW!! (refer to the Coma Berenices close-up chart shown below for all the objects described in detail on the "Guide")
A VISUAL GUIDE TO OUR DEEP SKY OBJECTS IN COMA BERENICES
Object 1 - Constellation GO TO - Coma Berenices (42 Comae, alpha Com)
As stated we are staring out this "GO TO" TOUR with a different twice, taking you to the heart of the constellation via the AutoStar's "Constellation Library." This keys in on the brightest star of each constellation, in this case "42 Coma Bernices", at a dim magnitude 4.23. There is nothing particularly interesting about this particular star, but I wanted to provide the opportunity for you to use your GO TO / Constellation key at least once in AutoStar! However, this IS a very difficult double star that theoretically can be resolved with the 8-inch and even perhaps the 6-inch under very high magnification and steady seeing. If you CAN resolve it....you deserve the night off. I cannot split this one with my 8-inch. Both stars of this pair are magnitude "5" and presently are UNDER the maximum separation of about 0.9' arc. This pair is a relatively close 65 light years distant, and both are about 3 times the size of our own sun, although very similar in all respects.
Click for full-size version
Object 2 - 37 Coma Berenices - A Very Tough Double for the 6-8 inch scopes
This is an easy star to find, immediately above and just west of Beta Comae, as shown in the close-up chart. However, this is an extremely difficult double star....the main star is magnitude 5.0 while the secondary star is ONLY magnitude 13; it is "possible" to see this star in the 4-inch nearly due north of the brighter star, but more likely seen in the 6-inch and larger scopes. A 13th magnitude star is visible in both scopes under the darkes of sky conditions, but this one is only 5.2" arc from the 5th magnitude primary star, so its glare may prevent you from seeing it. I would be interested from LX 90 users if this star is visible to them....I can detect it, but ONLY because I know it's there! This may be the toughest double star you have had yet!
Objects 3 - A Wonderful Pair of Globular Clusters! - Messier 53 and NGC 5053
This pair of globular clusters is separated in your field of view by only one degree, and the differences between these two beautiful objects is very interesting. You can spend much time just studying and noting the subtle peculiarities when comparing. Messier 53 is a very fine globular, bright and large with a "typical concentration" of stars, densely packed into the center. It reminds me of a somewhat smaller and fainter Messier 5 in Serpens (see: GUIDES/Constellations/Ophiuchus here on the GUIDES tab at ASO.
Although just on limit of star resolution in the 3-inch, expect some partial resolution with this scope along the perimeter of the larger Messier 53. The stars are fairly bright for a globular - 11th and 12th magnitude. But with a total brightness of only 8.7, this is a bit of a difficult object. Photographically, the globular has a surprisingly BRIGHT magnitude of only 3.7! In the 6-inch and larger scopes this is an outstanding sight with glittering spattering of "star dust" seen all the way to the core of this "half-moon-sized" object. Look only 1 degree southeast of M-53 (use the 40mm eyepiece with the smaller telescopes....well what can I say: they'll both be in that super wide field of view, but with ngc5053 right on the verge of being too faint to see), and you will find one of my favorite globular clusters, the peculiar NGC 5053. The jury is still out as to whether this is actually a globular cluster or perhaps a very DENSE galactic cluster, like Messier 11 in Scutum (see GUIDES/Constellations). This is a beautiful but very difficult sight, only about magnitude 10.2 but still clearly visible in the 6-8 inch scopes. Compare this loose globular to M-53 and just look at the difference in the concentration of stars toward the center! Interesting, both objects are about the same distance and the fainter is actually 10,000 light years CLOSER than the brighter M-53, at "only" 55,000 light years. This makes both of them among the most distant of all globular clusters in this portion of the sky! Expect little or no resolution of the individual stars even in the 8" telescope.
Object 4 - The "BLACK EYE GALAXY" - Messier 64
Here is one you can dial up by NAME under OBJECTS / DEEP SKY / NAMED.... and scroll until you get to "Black Eye Galaxy", or merely type in Messier "64" under that listing. This is a very fine object in all scopes, appearing as an elongated bright oval shape, fairly large, in the smaller scopes; in the 6-inch you will begin to see the full extent of this nice galaxy, magnitude 8. However, it takes the 8-inch and a very dark night to begin to detect the "black eye" so don't expect too much out of this from its label! This is one "deep sky exception" in that using higher than usual magnifications will actually enhance your chances of glimpsing this interesting dark marking against the bright center of M-64. With the larger scope, the dark portion is clearly visible and offset greatly to one "hemisphere" of the core of the galaxy; in addition, I was able to detect ONE dark spiral hint just opposite that dark matter (see the photography, courtesy U.S. Naval Observatory, below) from the core of the galaxy. One thing that is VERY noticeable with all scopes the very bright star-like "nucleus" of this galaxy. This is an outstandingly bright and large (7.5 x 3.5" arc) galaxy with a beautiful oval shape.
Object 5 - Our First "GO TO" Elliptical Galaxy - Messier 85
At magnitude 10.2 or so, this galaxy is a bit easier than that brightness would indicate; however don't expect anything but a roundish 3' arc by 2' arc round glow. In the ETX 125 I can distinctly make out a very star-like nucleus of the galaxy. This elliptical galaxy CAN be seen in a small APO refractor, but will appear very much like a very faint star that is out of focus....it is likely to be missed altogether unless you crank up the magnification somewhat. This object is an incredible 41 million light years away and contains enough mass that would require over 100 billion suns!
For an 8-inch, look for the VERY faint galaxy NGC in the same medium power field of view, 8' arc to the east. This fainter galaxy, at visual magnitude 11.7 and very difficult, is a barred spiral which should show some elongation as a very small oval.
Object 6 - Messier 88 - A Fine "Tilted" Spiral Galaxy
Some galaxies present their beauty to us face on, like the famous "Whirlpool Galaxy" in Canes Venatici (see GUIDES/Constellation Guides here on this website) or perhaps EDGE-on, like the wonderful "Needle Galaxy" also in Coma Berenices (discussed following). In the case of Messier 88, we are looking at something in between: a spiral galaxy that is tilted toward our line of sight by about 30 degrees, making it appear much elongated and characteristly "pointy" on each end. It is a large galaxy, almost 6' x 3' in size and appears very nice in even the 3-inch scope, much brighter than its given 10.5 magnitude; use medium to medium-high powers on the 6 to 8-inch scopes and you likely can glimpse some spiral structure if viewing from a VERY dark sky. The size of this galaxy makes it a good, but difficult, target for smaller telescopes. Interestingly, an equally nice galaxy - NGC 4571 - is located only one degree east and a bit to the south of M-88 and is "thought" to be the one missing Messier Object as discussed below.
Object 7 - Messier's "Missing Galaxy," - Messier 91 (??)...or was it really a comet?
Charles Messier did not start out his famed astronomy career desiring to catalog "faint fuzzies" in the sky; indeed, he did not even LIKE them....so much so that they were getting in his way of fame by seeking out new comets on a regular basis from his observatory in France. He would no sooner think that he had discovered the wonders of a new interloping comet that to find out that it was merely a faint fuzzy that was always there....only nobody had ever bothered to write down the positions of these obstacles! So Messier cataloged as many objects as possible so that he could provide a quick and reliable reference to objects and dismiss them as comets should he come across them again....so were obvious, like the Praesepe (M-44) and the Orion Nebula (M-42), but other actually LOOKED like distant comets before they form the characteristic tail. In March, 1781, Messier recorded an object with the description he used so many times: "....a nebula without a star...fainter than -90", referring to his entry for now-Messier 90. His cataloged position was: RA 12h 35.0m, DEC 14 degrees 02 minutes, only there is NO object at that position! Perhaps it was, indeed, a comet and even Messier was fooled! However, there IS an object at RA 12h 34.3m, DEC +14 degrees 28 minutes that is likely his object. This is a face-on spiral galaxy, only magnitude 11.2 visually and only about 2.5' x 2.2' diameter. This object is fairly conspicuous in both the 6 and 8-inch telescopes for such a dim magnitude designation, and is an easy target even in a 3-inch.
Object 8 - Another Spiral Galaxy - Messier 98
After fighting to see any detail in Messier 91, turn your attention to the VERY large and fairly bright Messier 98, only 1/2 degree west of the 5th magnitude star 6 Comae. The closeness of this star adds to the ease of locating the object and provides a super impression of "3-D" between the star and galaxy. Messier also noted this was a "...nebula without star...." (yawn), but failed to mention it is huge in the telescope, measuring 8' arc long and 2' arc wide, making it a very interesting cigar-shaped object in medium power. It is magnitude 10.7, but can be easily seen in small APO refractors with medium-high power. Larger telescopes might reveal that it is truly a nearly edge-on galaxy, with some detail around its perimeter. It is a fine sight in the 6-8 inch scopes at about 100x or so. Look in the same 1-degree field of a low power wide field eyepiece in those scopes for Messier 99 to the east and slightly north of M-98.
Object 9 - Messier 99 - the "Pinwheel Galaxy" (but not if you believe that M-33 is the "real pinwheel"
This nice galaxy is frequently mislabeled the "Pinwheel Galaxy" in astronomy references, but that honor goes to the famous and large Messier 33 in Triangulum. Nonetheless, Messier 99 is a true "pinwheel" shape and this spiral structure can be detected on a very dark night at about 125x in an 8-inch and suspected in a 6-inch at about 90x. It appears as a roundish glow in the 3-inch and smaller scopes with a very bright concentration - almost star-like - at the very center. At only 4' arc and round, the galaxy WILL show some of its brighter arm structure to very large amateur telescopes, and fairly impressively so! With a mass of over 50 billion suns, when you gaze at this distant galaxy, you are looking at light that left those suns some 60 MILLION YEARS AGO, just now getting through the focal system of your telescope!
Object 10 - A Wonderful Spiral Galaxy for all Scopes! - Messier 100
I suspect Messier was getting somewhat weary of recording "faint fuzzies" by the time he got to his 100th listing, the beautiful face-on spiral in Coma Berenices. I am sure that his description "....difficult to recognize....feeble light" was a badly needed drift from the typical "....nebula with no star." For M-100 is a spectacular objects in the ETX 90 and larger telescopes; although visible clearly in the small APO refractors, it is devoid of detail in those scopes. With the 6-inch, I was clearly able to observe the spiral structure of this beautiful galaxy (as shown in the accompanying photograph, courtesy the Mount Palomar 200" telescope) with the 8-inch when the galaxy was nearly directly overhead my observatory at dark Petit Jean Mountain. This is a truly huge galaxy, comparable in size and mass to the Great Andromeda Galaxy, and measuring in diameter nearly 120,000 light years! It is only magnitude 10, but is clearly distinguishable and a definite "must-see.
Object 11 - My Favorite Galaxy - NGC 4565 - the "Needle" Edge-on Galaxy
You've heard of the "space needle?" Well, here is the real deal. If the sight of this galaxy does NOT give you an adrenalin rush then you better schedule your monthly physical right away. This is the classic of all edge-on galaxies and by far the most interesting (with Messier 82 in Ursa Major a close second) of all galaxies to view in amateur instruments. This long needle will literally FILL your eyepiece from point to point across a NE to SW direction at about 100x; I have found that magnification is ideal for ALL scopes. Lower magnification loses some of the nice contrast necessary to see the full extent of the object, and higher powers merely blur the sharp detail which "may" be seen. On a very dark night, you might see this galaxy much as it appears in fantastic photograph from the 200" Palomar telescope below:
In the 6 and 8-inch scopes, both at about 100x I can clearly make out the dark "lane" of the very edge of this razor-sharp image. The galaxy tip-to-tip literally touches the edges of my fields of view! You can clearly make out the "lens-like" hub of the galaxy. All in all, it looks pretty much just like the photograph seen, only not as bright as captured on film. NOTE that the tiny star seen in this photo just to the left of the galaxy's hub can clearly be seen in the ETX 125 at 100x when the air is very steady. It can be held unmistakably in the 8-inch and larger scopes. In smaller scopes, locate the field first and move the barrel of the scope slightly to reveal the faint sliver of light; then, once centered, increase the magnification up to about 50 x or 60x for the best views. This galaxy measure 15' arc long.....half the size of the moon's disk! Thus, you can appreciate how much is lost at higher magnifications. Although its magnitude is given a visual 10.2, it is really hard to understand how Charles Messier missed this one....perhaps it was not enough "....nebula without star..." for him to have taken note. Nonetheless, you should take note...this is one object that you should NEVER do without. It is a showpiece of the sky and great for star parties and telescope cookouts!
WANDERING ABOUT....YOUR NEW "USER OBJECT" IN COMA BERENICES
Since Messier ignored the fantastic sliver of NGC 4565, we will not. Although you can access this object through the OBJECT / DEEP SKY / NGC....[enter number] library of Autostar, let's do this object justice and program your Autostar and key in the coordinates for this "needle" as given above.
On AutoStar, go to: "Select/Object [enter]...." scroll down to "User Object" [ enter]. Now enter the coordinates given above for "NGC 4565", using the number keys on AutoStar. After entering the coordinates and pressing "Enter" yet again, scroll down one and you can list the magnitude of the object as "10"[Enter]. Now go back and mode back to "USER OBJECT / Description...." and enter "needle" or something equally creative....NOW, you can access this wonderful object directly from your own custom AutoStar growing USER OBJECT LIBRARY! Messier would have been envious of our abilities to eliminate all these faint fuzzies by merely consulting a glowing handbox full of tens of thousands of such objects!
Next Constellation GO TO" TOUR Installment: VIRGO, the "the celestial Virgin," or "maiden" and the home of an equally-rich concentration of galaxies.....just like the Coma Berenices group of distant star systems, there are countless millions of galaxies that lurk through the direction of Virgo.....we will explore no less than 11 such Messier objects in this constellation....AND 25 MORE NGC galaxies that are at least "possible" in some of our telescopes! Your galaxy tours are not complete without Coma Berenices together with Virgo!
Good Observing and explorations of this wonderful world of deep space!
Arkansas Sky Observatory
Conway / Petit Jean Mountain