Deep-sky Fishing in Cetus, the Whale

Cetus, the Whale, swims after darkish these late autumn nights, providing galaxies inside vary of a small scope. Let’s forged a line to see what we are able to catch!   

Cetus, the Whale, has quite a lot of galaxies which can be simply noticed in smaller telescopes.
Stellarium, with additions by writer

For this tour, we don’t want an enormous rig; a easy “rod ‘n reel” — a 4-inch refractor (f/7 in my case) will do. Intrepid anglers are encouraged to try with less. Successful observations hinge on practice and patience, not just gear.  Dark skies do make a difference with galaxies, though, and a moonless night is recommended.

To switch to “galaxy” mode, head over to the magnificent Andromeda Galaxy (M31) and her two handmaidens, M32 and M110. While M32 jumps out in my 102-mm refractor, M110 is a bit more shy. Look for a smudge on the other side of Andromeda. After spotting its ghostly glow and setting expectations towards the faint, it’s time to go fishin’.

Bearing Check

The autumn seas we sail are dim and generally troublesome to navigate. Spend a second tracing the define of Cetus.

Mira, one in every of the most well-known variable stars in the sky, can play a distinguished function in the define of the constellation, however winks out of view at minima. It’s a nice goal in its personal proper, and if the constellation seems completely different out of your chart, this may very well be why.

“Squid Eye” Galaxy

Messier 77 is our first goal, and I’ve nicknamed it the “Squid Eye Galaxy.” Aim a half diploma (full-Moon diameter) southeast of Delta (δ) Ceti. Telrad customers, put the center ring on Delta, and nudge to the left. Keep an eye fixed out for a misty “star,” as the galaxy’s core is surprisingly brilliant. The galaxy itself presents as one thing decidedly nonstellar as you sweep throughout the area.

Diagram showing location of M77 on the sky
The writer nicknames M77 the “Squid Eye Galaxy” for its look.
Stellarium, with additions by writer

Although it has a small obvious measurement, it’s one in every of the largest Messier galaxies and the closest galaxy in the catalog. Close is a relative time period, although. M77 is 47 million light-years distant (in comparison with Andromeda’s 2.5 million).

This celestial “eye” friends again throughout space and time, burning with energetic exercise. At its heart is a supermassive black hole, spewing clouds of gas. The galaxy zooms away from us at 1,400 km/s (3 million mph); this “tiny” patch of mist tugs arduous at the line.

Once you hook it, spend a while reeling it in. Glance at it with averted imaginative and prescient. Breathe deeply, too: The additional oxygen would possibly make it easier to see only a notch higher.

Deep Dive Treasure

NGC 253 (aka Sculptor Galaxy) would give the Andromeda Galaxy a run for its cash if it lay additional north. Northern observers should take a deep dive to the southern horizon to grab the Silver Dollar Galaxy, which certainly resembles a glowing coin glimmering on the backside of a pool.

To discover this spiral galaxy, begin with Beta (β) Ceti, and plunge nearly due south somewhat greater than 7°.

Diagram showing the Silver Dollar Galaxy on the sky
The Silver Dollar Galaxy (NGC 253) hangs in Sculptor under Cetus.
Stellarium, with additions by writer

NGC 253 swam into view extra simply than I anticipated — the earlier follow with M110 got here in useful right here. I discover NGC 253 a lot simpler to identify as I sweep southbound.

Try quite a lot of magnifications to regulate the measurement and distinction of the goal. I used to be having fun with the view most at 44×, however you’ll be able to all the time experiment to seek out the greatest mixture on your eyes, tools, and situations.

Can you spy any element inside the haze? What angle is the galaxy offered at? How far out does it prolong? Spending time marveling at 6.8 million-year-old photons is a superb way to unwind — and to hone your observing expertise. Linger a second!


Pushing the limits of small optics might be satisfying, but it surely does require a little bit of persistence, and this subsequent goal might need you desirous to throw your rig in the drink. If you’ll be able to’t snag it tonight, there’s all the time tomorrow. The elliptical NGC 584 was proper at the restrict of my scope, skies, and talent, however in fact, strive it your self and see.

Extend the line connecting Eta (η) Ceti to Theta (θ) Ceti by roughly 2° northeast and you may land at NGC 584. A couple of area stars share the view, however aside from that, it’s an empty seaside.

Diagram showing NGC 584 on the sky
You would possibly want some persistence (or only a larger telescope) to catch NGC 584, an elliptical galaxy in Cetus.
Stellarium, with additions by writer

I cheated, utilizing an 8-inch Dobsonian to verify the sighting, wrestling with barely soupy skies. Back with the 102-mm, I may barely detect a wisp of a glow. Tapping the telescope tube might help jiggle the barely there into actuality. Try this, together with averted imaginative and prescient — you’ll be able to even cowl your head with a towel to dam out any neighboring lights. (If nothing else, it’ll bolster your fame as the neighbor to not be trifled with. Ahoy!) 

Lying at 60 million light-years, that is the most distant goal on our record tonight and definitely the most difficult. Let me know your expertise with this one!

Return to Port

Wipe off that dew — or is that cosmic seawater? — and write down your findings over a cup of one thing sizzling. I discover this each sharpens my expertise and supplies pleasing studying on wet nights. You’ll be capable of see your progress as a deep-sky observer and bear in mind occasions crusing the nighttime seas and reeling in the huge ones.

Bon voyage!


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