University Lowbrow Astronomers

Observer’s Challenge.

by Mark S Deprest
Printed in Reflections: December, 2010.

Yes, I know that its usually someone else that throws out these observer’s challenges, but I thought I might give you all one of my own. Everyone knows my observational passion is first and foremost COMETS, however any one who has observed with me recently, knows that I am working my way thru the Dr. Halton Arp’s Catalog of Peculiar Galaxies also that I love to observe the unusual and often overlooked objects. I would like to present three of my favorites for this time of year. The first two objects are from the Arp catalog and the third object got me twice, more on that story later...

NGC 1023 & NGC 1023a—a.k.a. ARP 135

NGC 1023 is an easy target that almost any size scope will be able to show. At 10.5 magnitude and 8.1 x 3.4 arc minutes in size. This galaxy is a pretty bright, large, very elongated S0 type with a very bright central core. 200X brings out the companion galaxy NGC 1023a on the eastern tip. Using averted vision this duo shows considerably more in both size and detail. NGC 1023a is the challenge object, a 10” scope under transparent conditions should be able to pick it up. This duo is about 4.5 degrees west of rho Perseus on the Perseus / Andromeda border and at this time of year it rises at about 4:00pm so, by evening astronomical twilight they are 45 degrees above the northeastern horizon. The finder chart and images below should help you with both where and what to look for.

NGC 1023

NGC 1023

NGC 1023 chart

(you may need to scroll to the left to see all of the chart above)

NGC 772 & NGC 770—a.k.a. ARP 78

NGC 772 is also an easy Sb type galaxy to observe in almost any size scope as its magntude is listed at 11.1 and it too is similarly large at 7.5 x 4.3 arc minutes. Listed as bright, large, slightly elongated, with one bright arm, bright elongated central core and averted vision causes this beauty to grow by 150%. An extremely faint extention seems to connect to the much fainter NGC 770 listed as a type E 13.9 magnitude galaxy. NGC 770 and the connecting bridge are the challenges, you should be able to see hints of the bridge under very transparent and rural dark skies in scopes as small as 12 inches. This one requires patience and very contrasty conditions. NGC 770 is much smaller and pretty much round in shape with its dimensions listed as 1.1 x 0.8 arc minutes and located about 3.7 arc minutes south-southwest of the core of NGC 772, both can be found 2 degrees southeast of beta Aries, see the finder chart and images below.

NGC 772 & NGC 770

NGC 772 & NGC 770 chart

NGC 1931 (not a Comet!!!)

Okay, here is the last of the challenge objects and the challenge is to not be fooled into thinking its a comet... it got me twice! Let me explain, this small open cluster with a diffused nebula involved looks like a comet in low powers and it is located in a star rich area of the winter milky way between M38 and M36. When I was sweeping with my 8 inch scope from M38 over to M36 using my 32mm MK-80 eyepiece it slid thru a corner of my FOV and let me tell you I got a very big scare. I knew that there weren’t any reported comets anywhere near Auriga so, if this was actually an unreported comet I was going to be famous! Now, fast forward 2 years and using my 18 inch scope and the same low power eyepiece and sweeping once again from M38 to M36, I got the second scare... which really ticked me off. Because as the saying goes... fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me! Now, in my defence even one of the best observer in the country today, Steve Coe of the Saguaro Astronomy Club writes his description of this object as: “Bright, pretty large, somewhat elongated. Looks like a small comet at very low powers.” This is a cool object and not really challenge to seen in almost any size scope the real challenge is to not be fooled! The finder chart and image below should help you find this comet imposter!

NGC 1931 chart

NGC 1931


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