This month's deep-sky challenge will prove to be a challenge indeed. You'll need a very dark sky with excellent transparency to observe the faint and difficult face-on galaxy, IC 342 located in the constellation of Camelopardalis. Begin your search by locating 4.5 magnitude Gamma Camelopardalis, and then about 3° south.
IC 342 is very large, but extremely faint due to the low surface brightness. When using my 10-inch f/4.5 reflector, it has been difficult to spot on many occasions. At a magnification of 57X, I could see a very feeble and faint glow, however, at times it required a bit of field motion (lightly tapping the side of the telescope tube.)
Increasing the magnification to 114X began to bring out some of the fainter details.I saw a brighter stellar nucleus and a hint of spiral structure began to show when using averted vision. The overall shape had a very subtle N-S elongation. The edges were ill-defined and faded very gradually outwards. A chain of six stars runs the length of the galaxy in a NW-SE orientation. There were a number of faint stars superimposed in front of the galaxy. The following sketch was made using a No. 2 pencil and a blank 5 X 8 notecard. The colors were inverted using my scanner.
Here are some observations of IC 342 by some other notable and skilled observers:
Jaakko Saloranta of Finland: 4.7-inch refractor at 60X: "A low surface brightness galaxy with a nearly stellar nucleus surrounded by a faint, slightly E-W elongated halo peppered with foreground stars. With averted vision, I suspected faint spiral arms."
Sue French of New York: "Through a 105mm refractor at 28X, IC 342 was a very nice, large, low-surface-brightness galaxy spangled with faint stars. At 68X, this pretty galaxy appeared somewhat elongated north-south and spanned about 12'. In a 10-inch reflector at 44x, IC 342 was quite fetching and faintly mottled. It seemed brightest around a little pile of faint stars and just north of them. The very faint outer reaches of the galaxy made it look rounder and stretched it to a diameter of 1/3°."
Tom English of North Carolina: "Using a 16-inch RCOS telescope, I observed this galaxy from Jamestown, NC. There was good transparency, but was hampered by a fairly bright moon. I could see the central core, but nothing else."
Gus Johnson of Maryland: "Through a 5-inch short focal length reflector, I found it on the edge of my imagination. I noted a faint star chain on the western edge."
Fred Rayworth of Nevada: "Using a 16-inch f/4.5 reflector telescope with magnifications of 70 to 102X from Furnace Creek Ranch in Death Valley. Viewing conditions were not that good. I saw a faint fuzzy star with a stellar core. Not bright enough to see shape. When observing from Redstone on the North Shore of Lake Meade, Nevada using 87X, I noted a bright core, and a spiral structure, however, it was very faint."
Add your observations of IC 342 in the comments below.
The following image was made by Dr. James Dire, from Wildwood Observatory in Earl, North Carolina using an Orion 190 mm f/5.3 Maksutov-Newtonian telescope and a CCD camera. The exposure time was 60 minutes.