Friday, November 22 - Tonight let's head less than a degree south-southeast of Delta Ceti (RA 02 43 40.83 Dec -00 00 48.4) to have a look at a galaxy grouping that features magnificent M77.
Discovered on October 29, 1780 by Pierre Mechain, Charles Messier cataloged it as #77 around six weeks later as a "nebulous cluster" - an accurate description for a small telescope. It wasn't until 1850 when Lord Rosse uncovered its spiral nature that we began to view it as the grand structure seen in today's modern telescopes.
M77, Courtesy of NOAO/AURA/NSF
Around 47 million light-years away, larger instruments will reveal Messier 77's wide spiral arms where the older stars call home, and the concentrated core region where gigantic gas clouds move rapidly and new stars are being formed - a core which contains such a massive energy source that it emits spectrum of radio waves. After decades of study, the highly active nucleus of this Seyfert galaxy is known to have a mass equaling 10 million suns and a 5 light-year wide disc which rotates around it, and contains intense star forming regions. This is one of the brightest known galazies, and was cataloged by Arp as number 37 on his list of peculiar galaxies.
While even binoculars can spot the core, and modest scopes can reveal M77's glory, larger telescopes will also spy 10th magnitude, edge-on NGC 1055 (Right Ascension: 2:41.8 - Declination: +00:26) about half a degree north-northwest and 11th magnitude, face-on NGC 1073 (Right Ascension: 2:43.7 - Declination: +01:23) about a degree north-northeast. Let us know if you find them, and what you used. Enjoy them tonight!
Saturday, November 23 - Tonight in 1885, the very first photograph of a meteor shower was taken. Also, the weather satellite TIROS II was launched on this day in 1960. Carried to orbit by a three-stage Delta rocket, the "Television Infrared Observation Satellite" was about the size of a barrel, testing experimental television techniques and infrared equipment. Operating for 376 days, Tiros II sent back thousands of pictures of Earth's cloud cover and was successful in its experiments to control the orientation of the satellite spin and its infrared sensors.
Oddly enough, a similar mission - Meteosat 1 - also became the first satellite put into orbit by the European Space Agency, in 1977 on this day. Where is all this leading? Why not try observing satellites on your own! Thanks to wonderful on-line tools from NASA you can be alerted by e-mail whenever a bright satellite makes a pass for your specific area. It's fun!
Kappa Piscium - Palomar Observatory Courtesy of Caltech
Now, let's have a look at a beautiful optical pair/multiple system as we journey to the southernmost star in the "Circlet" - Kappa Piscium. Easily split in even binoculars, this lovely green and violet combination of stars may have once belonged to the Pleiades group. 5th magnitude Kappa is a chromium star - one with unusual spectral iron properties - which rotates completely in around 48 hours. It shows lines of uranium, and the possibility of a very rare element known as holmium. Both the uranium and osmium content could be the result of a supernova explosion in a nearby star. Enjoy this rare and colorful pair!
Sunday, November 24 - Tonight let's journey back to the area around M77 - because we've got more to explore! Let's start with Delta Ceti and head north about a degree for NGC 1032 (RA 02 39 23.74 Dec +01 05 37.7). Discovered in 1783 by Sir William Herschel and cataloged as H II.5, this 13th magnitude edge-on galaxy isn't for the smaller scope, but that doesn't mean it's not interesting. Possessing a bright core region and an almost stellar nucleus, this superb galaxy was home to a supernova event in 2005!
NGC 1090 and NGC 1087 - Palomar Observatory Courtesy of Caltech
Now, have a look at M77 again and head less than two degrees east for a pair of north/south oriented galaxies - NGC 1090 and NGC 1087 (RA 02 46 33.70 Dec -00 1 4 49.0). At around 120 million light-years away, northern NGC 1090 (H II.465) is also a supernova candidate, with events being reported in both 1962 and 1971. At close to magnitude 13, this barred spiral isn't easy, but it can be spotted with aversion and a mid-sized telescope.
About 15 degrees south is NGC 1087. Although the pair may seem quite close - no interaction between them has been detected. At magnitude 11, smaller scopes stand a much better chance at picking out 1087′s faint, round glow, while large scopes will get a sense of tightly wound spiral arms around Herschel II.466. Its barred structure is quite curious - far smaller than what is known to be common in this type of structure, but still a grand star forming region, and a region that held a supernova event in 1995!
Check out this active group tonight...
About Tammy Plotner - Tammy is a professional astronomy author, President Emeritus of Warren Rupp Observatory and retired Astronomical League Executive Secretary. She's received a vast number of astronomy achievement and observing awards, including the Great Lakes Astronomy Achievement Award, RG Wright Service Award and the first woman astronomer to achieve Comet Hunter's Gold Status.