Constellations of the Month
by Rick Raasch
The constellations well be examining this month are richly intertwined in mythology, but are vastly divergent in the objects they present to amateur astronomers. While Perseus lies along the Milky Way, and offers many sparkling open clusters and diffuse nebulae, Andromeda lies away from our galaxys plane, and lets us see the inhabitants of intergalactic space. Some of the finest objects of their respective classes reside in these constellations, and it is well worth braving cold weather to observe them.
M-31, 32, & 110 The Great Galaxy in Andromeda and its companions. M-31 is the closest large spiral galaxy to our own Milky Way galaxy, and therefore presents us with a wealth of details. Numerous dust lanes are evident, and large telescopes can even identify individual members of its system of globular clusters. I find the best view of this galaxy trio to be through large binoculars. At this magnification, the complete extent of the main galaxy can be seen, and the fuzzy, star-like M-32 and the elliptical M-110 can be glimpsed quite easily in the same field of view.
NGC 752 A large and splashy open cluster which is best seen in the viewfinder or binoculars. It is about 3/4 degree in size, with over 150 relatively bright stars arranged in many curving chains. Well detached from the background stars and very pretty.
NGC 891 This is a large galaxy, 12-15x3', extended NNE-SSW. Using averted vision, one can see a dust lane bisecting it at its center. Although it is large, it appears rather faint, so time is needed to extract detail in this beautiful object.
NGC 7662 The Blue Snowball. A fine, bright, bluish-green planetary nebula, about 30" in diameter which handles magnification well. No annularity was noted, but the SE edge appeared to be brighter than the NW side. Some observers do see annularity at very high powers.
Gamma And One of the prettiest double stars in the sky. It is easily split, and shows a golden-orange primary and a fine blue companion. A must see.
M-34 Large, bright open cluster, easily seen in the viewfinder, and best seen in binoculars. Composed of many bright stars, and a sprinkling of fainter stars, it is about 40' in diameter, and moderately concentrated at its center. About 100 stars were counted. It looks like a slightly fainter version of the either of the clusters in the Double Cluster.
M-76 This interesting planetary nebula is composed of two lobes, each given a their own NGC number, and is commonly known as the Little Dumbell Nebula, as it resembles a smaller version of the famous planetary nebula in Vulpecula. M-76 handles magnification well, and appears to be rectangular in shape. The southwestern lobe, NGC 650, is the brighter of the two, and is separated from the fainter lobe by dark lanes of material. A remarkable object.
NGC's 869 & 884 The Double Cluster. Best seen in binoculars, these bright open clusters are easily visible to the naked eye as nebulous patches of light in northern Perseus. NGC 869 is the brighter and more concentrated of the two. It is about 30-35' in diameter, and is dominated by two bright orange stars near its center. NGC 884 is slightly larger, but more scattered, and has a bright orange star a little bit off-center. Each of these clusters contain about 100 to 150 stars. While scanning this area in binoculars, be sure to check out Stock 2. This large cluster of stars lies slightly north of the Double Cluster, is about one and a half degrees in diameter, and contains about 100 moderately faint stars.
NGC 1023 A relatively bright galaxy, about 6'x2', oriented E-W, with a very bright core. It is sharply brighter to the center, with a stellar core. A rather pretty looking galaxy.
NGC 1491 A delicate nebula, best seen with a UHC filter, but definitely seen with direct vision. A 10-11 magnitude star illuminates a 5'x3' fan shaped nebula which sweeps away from it to the west.
NGC 1499 The California Nebula. This is a very large, and faint object, which I was only able to see as a slight brightening of the background sky. It is about 3 degrees long and about 1 degree wide, and thus its light is spread over a large area. I was unable to see any detail, but in photographs, it is a remarkable object.
Mel 20 The Alpha Persei cluster. This is one of my favorite targets for binoculars. To the naked eye, it appears as a rather granulated region around and south of the brightest star in Perseus. Through binoculars, it is composed of about 50 bright white and bluish stars taking up the whole field of view. A fantastic sight.
Abell 426 This is a very distant cluster of galaxies, of which only a couple were visible in my scope. Maybe some of you owners of light buckets can give me a better view sometime! The only galaxy I was able to see well was NGC 1275, which was about 1.5'x1', sharply brighter to the center with a stellar core. NGC's 1277 and 1270 appeared as merely out of focus stars, with 1277 being the brighter. This cluster of galaxies is easily found only about one degree east of Algol (Beta Persei).
Next Month: Taurus and Auriga
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