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Come on. Let me take you...

The "Backyard Astronomer" invites you to a... Spring Starhop

"We are all lying on our backs in gutter... Only some of us are looking at the stars!"

Now, dust off the 'scopes, break out the accessory case, brew some coffee, and let's head out into the night...


The constellation of Leo will be first on our quest, starting with the bright Regulus...this will be the "focal" point for this star hop. To the east you will find 52 Leonis... now nudge slightly to the south, where you will pick up a fuzzy triangle of light. That's no moon! It's a space station! And, you have just found your first challenge... the galaxy trio, M105, NGC3384 and NGC3389! Don't despair if you cannot resolve them... they are quite faint, with the M105 showing as a fuzzy ball of light! Now, let's shoot for another. Just a bit south of M105, in a relatively starless field, you will pass across the faint, silver beauty of the M96, and its' nearby companion, the M95! This pair is visible in scopes as small as four inches... but in order to gain more resolution, requires the heavy artillery! Now, go to the northeast to find Chort, a blue/white star that is going to be the next stopping point. Ready? Now a bit south will bring you to the Leo Trio of galaxies, featuring the M65 and M66.

So... we've had a bit of study time. Are your ready to do some serious "lion taming"? Then the faint galaxies of Leo await us! And I'm ready to take you there... Let's tickle the belly of the Lion first, shall we? The M96 is a classic spiral... its' intense core is much sharper and brighter than the wispy looking wreath of its' arms! Much more impressive than it's companion, the M95. The M95's galactic structure requires a bit more patience to see the structure! Now for the M105, and it's partners, the NGC3384 and NGC3389. These are truly "fur balls"... quite identifable as galactic in nature, but not very exciting. And speakiing of faint "fuzzies", a hop to the north picks up two more... tiny smears of light listed as NGC3367 and NGC3377, and a nudge to the west picks off the soft spiral form of the NGC3338. (Still with me? Good! Let's go...) Ready to search for fleas in the Lion's mane? The head on to Algieba.... Due east picks off structureless pair, NGC3226 and NGC3227. And speaking of structureless, go back to Algieba, and hop north... another trio of very faint patches of light isted as NGC3193, NGC3190, and NGC3185. Enough of the shapeless ones... on to Chort! The M65 and M66 are always outstanding... I love the thread of light that extrudes from the M66's southern tip. (It reminds me of all those great horror movies where ectoplasm comes from the fingertips of a medium...) A hop to the east brings up NGC3593, its' edges are quite diffuse, but it possess a sweet, elongated core! Back over now to catch the NGC3628.... located between two stars to the north and south, it is a slightly grainy appearing, pencil slim edge-on. I like it! Now back to Chort, and dip south for another faint one, the NGC3596... cool, but just another patch of contrast. Head north between Chort and Zosma for another pair, The NGC3608 and NGC3607... very faint, they appear much like tiny globulars. OK, ready to shoot from the hip? Let's go... Once upon a time I chased asteroid Eleanora through this field of faint galaxies.. and I felt a need to revisit (and attempt to name them) before Leo moves out of reach. This cluster of galaxies includes NGC3653, NGC3681, NGC3684, NGC3686, and NGC3691. They are nothing spectacular... once again, just smears on the sky... but I have a penchant for galaxy hunting! Congratulations! Put a notch on your astronomical belt...(This was some serious FUN!! ;)


Next on the list is Cancer, and we'll extend our window just a bit to include a portion of Gemini... let's star with Castor. It's one of the better known, a tougher doubles in the lot! It requires steady skies and high magnification to split. Now hop on to Pollux, then southwest to Wasat... ready to hunt? Now just a few more degrees to the southwest and you should find the NGC 2392, "Eskimo Nebula"! This one is a toughie with a small scope. The best you can hope to achieve is a fuzzy, compact, green "star"... but a larger telescope and high magnification will reveal its' planetary nature!

Now, let's relax for a moment and regard this beautiful night sky while some of the most fascinating of deep sky objects rise a bit higher...

Ready yet? I sure am! Let's look to the north...

Ursa Major

Ah...there it is! The "Big Dipper"... and what riches it holds! Let's start our starhop with something familiar... Mizar and Alcore! Now let's nudge the scope a bit to the east to find the M101 "Pinwheel" galaxy! This particular one is a challenge with a larger scope... but while we're in the area, and feeling "challenged", let's go southeast... past Phecda and find the M109 galaxy. A truly tough target... and one I've only seen twice! Now... since we know where Phecda is... let's locate Merak, and go for the M108...another challenging target for the large scope! But, let's head back to smaller 'scope range and just a bump away from the M108 is the M97, "Owl Nebula"! Visible in scopes as small as 4"... the little grey/green fuzzy needs 10" or more to resolve even a hint of the eyes! Don't forget while in the area to drop in on the old stand-bys, the M81 and M82! (And there is MORE there too!! Because this pair is also part of a group!) So... are you ready for a REAL challenge? Then grab some aperature, and let's rock and roll! Since we're using the dob, the study is made in perfect vertical and horizontal motions... and I'm starting at Phecda and the M109, and dropping the scope due north through the "bowl" of the Big Dipper. (And what a bowlful I've found! Yeah, baby! ;) The first one we pass over is the NGC3982, a disk shaped galaxy... And down on to the NGC3932. Next is the NGC3998 , and nice, but not terribly impressive elliptical... Now the NGC3963 , which is in field with Zeta... And on to the NGC3945 -excellent!!! Now we're talking about resolvable structure. This lovely spiral appears to have a "ring" around it, much like the Moon does on a hazy night. Beautiful! Back up to the top now and move one field west... on we go! This pass brings us across the NGC3888 and NGC3898. These two are same field of view objects, and show just enough detail that I can tell they are spirals... Up again, and one more field west... (ready? let's fly!) Now we run across the NGC3780. This is "classed" as a spiral galaxy, but shows only as a soft ball of faint light... (And again...) Bump one field west - This is more like it! The NGC3729 and NGC3718 share the same field, but the 3718 has really elongated spiral arms!! (Looks like one of those old "Stretch Armstrong" dolls gone amuck!) Now on to the NGC3756 and NGC3738 , also same field galaxies... but wow! Talk about "tight" ! The 3738 looks like one tiny, high compressed stellar core! This just keeps getting better... How about NGC3690 ? OUTSTANDING! ! This one is totally cool! It either has two stellar cores (impossible.) or it is two interacting galaxies! (look like they're having s... ahem! Best carry on, astronomer... ;) Next field west - Once again the NGC3619 and NGC3613 are same field spirals. (And I've totally blown my own concentration!) Just a couple of faint ovals, with a hint of arms fading into the fringes. On next to the NGC3610 , a nice, even looking eliptical with no real core. (OK, one more field west...) This time to catch the NGC3631... and what a way to end the show! This is an excellent bright spiral, and averted vision really brings out the outer arms and decent nucleas! Now a practice pass over the M97 (Hey Mr. Owl... How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Tootsie Pop?). We end at Dubhe... (WOW! That was FUN!) Carve a some hash marks on the tripod leg, (I love scopin' with you!) and let's move on...

Canes Venetici

Now, on to the constellation Canes Venetici...since we've been in the area of Ursa Major, let's start with familiar star, Alkaid, and move into the next realm. Near by in the area is the colorful double, Cor Caroli... which will be the starting point on this hop. By drawing an imaginary line between Alkaid and Cor Caroli, we will find one-third along the way the famous M51, "Whirlpool Galaxy". This faint fellow is a challenge with a small scope, but begins to reveal its' structure in a larger one... with its' spin-off companion NGC 5195 showing clearly! Now, back to Cor Caroli (a lot like Albeiro, isn't it?) and Beta Cvn. Roughly halfway along this imaginary path is the M94 galaxy. Compact and bright in a small scope, the M94 reveals more of its' galactic nature in larger aperatures. Now, return once again to Cor Caroli, and this time we extend the line between it and Arcturus. At approximately the center of this line, we find the terrific globular, M63, "Sunflower Galaxy". A very faint patch of light in the smaller scope, both it and the M106 galaxy are fine targets for the larger scopes!

Ready to go in yet? There is NO WAY that I'm letting you go!!! The best is yet to come...

Now then.. for the best for last! As we journey into this area, we are going to borrow loosely from the coordinates of other constellations...

Coma Berenices

Let us feast our eyes in the lovely Coma Berenices! By using averted vision, this constellation looks like an "open cluster" in itself! We will be starting the"hop" at Denebola... the eastern-most star in Leo. And keep heading east a few degrees toward 6 Comae, where you will find the M98 galaxy. It is very subtle, but the bright core reveals it's galactic nature in larger scopes. Now.. just a nudge southeast of 6 Comae will bring you to the M99. The "Pinwheel Galaxy" is quite visible in smaller scopes! Now, back again to 6 Comae, and nudge to the northeast, to find the M100. This is one of the larger galaxies in this set, and resembles a dim globular cluster. A bit more to the north will bring you to the M85. Very round, it will appear almost as an out of focus star. Now... time to take it easy. Let's return to the M99 (you need to be polarly aligned for this trick!!) Center it up, and let's stand back and admire the view, because in approximately 14-15 minutes, the M88 will have "walked" into the field of view! Not bad, eh? Well... stand still for three more minutes and the M91 will be happy to join us! Now... let's loosen up and return to Arcturus. By drawing that imaginary line between Arcturus and Denebola, we start at the halfway point, Alpha Comae, where just a nudge to the northeast should bring the M53 globular cluster into view! This is a perfect target for small scopes! And with a simple grid pattern northward, you will find the M94,"Blackeye Galaxy"!

Lots of terrific targets for such a small area, huh? By using a 32mm eyepiece, you can often fit more than one into the same field of view! Now, now... you come back here! Because I'm not finished with YOU just yet...


And last, but not least on tonight's CHALLENGE starhop is the beautiful Virgo... let's relocate our "anchor" point on star, Vindemiatrix, part of the constellation of Virgo, and just slightly south of Alpa Comae. By running a grid to the west/northwest, you will locate the M60, eliptical galaxy, and in the same field of view is the M58 spiral into view. A bit more to the north, we find the M89, and ever-so-slightly to the northeast is the M90! Now, bumping the scope to the southwest, we find the M87, a giant eliptical. The a nudge from there to the northwest will capture the M86. Now, relax! Because in the same field of view is the M84! Let't change anchors by moving to the southeast of this pair to the red star, R Virginis. From that point, we will move northwest to find the M49, a dim oval shaped galaxy. And a southwest tip of the scope will find the M61, who reveals its' spiral structure to the larger scope. Catch your breath now, because we are about to move on to the cool, blue beauty of Spica... and finish our tour of Virgo! (Told you I like to save the best for last, didn't I?!) Now, let's run that grid pattern to the west, because we are hunting the grandaddy of all targets, the M104! The "Sombrero Galaxy" is an easy target... even for smaller scopes! And the dark dust lane will keep you enthralled, so save it for last, eh? (Come back here!! You've got me into this... and I've something more to share!)

Now the REAL challenge begins, eh? ;) Let's take a walk with the 12.5... (I've come for you, Virgo... I've done my studies while I've played. And now I'm ready to go...)

Free falling....

Starting at the M88, I admire its' decent arms... not as spectacular as the M51, but very graceful, indeed. (quit stalling, astronomer... fade west, take a breath and let go...) Free falling... Down to the NGC4474, spindle-shaped... the NGC4459, wonderful spiral with a great dust lane around the core... the NGC4477, a soft, "cloud like" spiral with no real core... the NGC4473, a small eliptical... Fade a bit west now, to keep them on center! NGC4461, a faded, open spiral... Now here's a pair! The NGC4435, edge-on... hooked in the same field as the NGC4438, a wierd, "stringy" looking galaxy if I ever saw one!! And still I'm falling... breathing so slightly to the east... Ah, yes! The M87! Howdy! And who's that you have with you? Why none other than a fine pair of edge-ons... the NGC4476 and the NGC4478! Free falling... NGC4503, another edge-on... Now for the NGC4526... Now for an odd-ball, the NGC4532... it looks more like a comet than Schaumasse did! ;) Falling... NGC4527, another edge-on... What's this? Long, lovely curves here... the NGC4536 is a stunning spiral! (WOW!! That took my breath away! Wanna' do it again? Huh? Let's go!! ;) Back up again! To the pairing of the M85, a fine elipitical, and the NGC4394, a delicate spiral... Free falling.... To the NGC4340, an elongated oval of light.... the NGC4350, "Come in here, dear boy... have a cigar!" Falling... The NGC4383, a faint elipitical, and on to the spectacular M100... a very bright, and very fine spiral! Falling to the next pair, the NGC4302... a wonderful streak of light that shows a dust lane! (yeah!) and in the same field, NGC4298, a soft ball of light with no definition... I see the M84 and the M86 go by... and still I fall. It's a long drop, with nothing beneath me... and I cannot stop... at least until I've come here! Another "field" to play in! And this time my mates are the NGC4261, an edge-on... the NGC4260, a soft spiral... the NGC4281, an even eliptical... and the odd-looking NGC4273... it has no shape! Cool! The the large face-on spiral of the M61 comes into view... and I am "grounded" once again! Up again, to the M98 this time... it is a decent spiral, but I can feel myself falling... to the NGC4212, a smear of light that may possibly be a spiral. And on... WHOA! What's this? A VERY fine edge-on, the NGC4216 is an incredible long bright streak on the face of Virgo! Very fine, but falling again to another trio... the NGC4224, yet another edge-on, hinting at a dust lane... the NGC4235 cuts across the field... and the NGC4233, an eliptical that shows detail at opposite "poles"! (Back up again we go!) To the M98 to shift the field... Free falling... To the NGC4189, a tight, delicious little spiral... and to the egg-shaped form of the NGC4168, an even elipitical... and the NGC4178, another terrific edge-on, who's core is a long, thin slice of light!! (Oh my! May we just lie here in the field for awhile? ;) The amount of galaxies in this area staggers the imagination... and I've only just begun to recount them all!! Here's to another year, and yet another splendid hunt.... Cheers!

Now... I hope I've set upon you a CHALLENGE worthy of your time! You may find all of these targets in one glorious night of clear sky, and it may take you years to find them! (For me, it's been both... ;) Small scope users, don't despair... because I must tell you that it IS POSSIBLE with a 4.5, dark-adapted eyes and excellent sky, to see the Virgo Cluster for yourself!!! When you drift across it... you will KNOW! And never fret over identifying everything you see, or you will take the joy out of the hunt! ;-)

For now, I hope you've had a wonderful time, and that the CHALLENGE page helps you along. But, don't you dare go away!

Because I'll be looking for YOU, come summer... ;)

--the astronomer