M65, M66, NGC 3628 – The Leo Triplet

M65 is a spiral galaxy and seems to have had little gravitational influence from it’s neighboring galaxies. Discovered on March 1, 1780 by Charles Messier. Tightly wound spiral arms along with a prominent dust lane on face on edge. Dominated by a smooth looking old stellar region and within the lane may contain some star forming regions. In 2013 the first supernova within the galaxy was discovered, known as 2013am first spotted on March 21, 2013.
M66 is another spiral galaxy and is considerably larger than M65. Also discovered by Charles Messier on March 1, 1780. This galaxy has a defined central bulge, and deformed spiral arms which may be the result of interactions with the gravity of it’s neighbors. Unlike M65, M66 shows a bit of nebulous regions signifying star forming regions near the end of one of the spiral arms.
NGC 3628 is an edge on unbarred spiral galaxy completely missed by Charles Messier and later discovered on April 8, 1784 by William Herschel. It may have been too dim to be seen in Messier’s telescopes, although his later instruments may have been able to see it if he went back during very good conditions. There is a dark band of dust along the equatorial region of NGC 3628 which hides not only some of the bright young stars in the spiral arm, but also obscures some of the bright central core. Also slightly deformed which is believed to be from it’s two neighboring galaxies, M65 and M66.

'X' Marks the spot of the Leo Triplet

‘X’ Marks the spot of the Leo Triplet

While viewing this group of galaxies I can’t help but notice the pareidolia of a face, with M65 and M66 as the eyes, and the edge on NGC 3628 as the mouth. With my gear I didn’t struggle to spot all three galaxies as Charles Messier did. The spiral arms of M65 and M66 were not much more than a bit fuzzy looking while the inner cores were bright. NGC 3628 was also quite visible and although it’s equatorial dust lane blocks a majority of the bright core it seems to have been the most prominent feature I could see through the eyepiece.

M65, M66, NGC 3628. 03-30-13

This image is 30 frames at 1.5 minutes a piece, ISO 800, and 30 dark frames. Stacked in Deep Sky Stacker, and post processing done in Photoshop.

I get all my Deep Sky object information from The Messier Catalog.

Omni XLT 150 with CG-4 mount
Modded Canon 350D
T-ring and adapter
Polar Scope for alignment

February 18, 2012 Viewing Session – Galaxies

I went on a bit of a galaxy hunt. I felt the need to take advantage of the crystal clear skies and the fact that there was no moon visible in the sky. I didn’t get out until around 10pm at which point I checked the astronomical seeing by magnifying Mars. I had no luck and couldn’t even make out a polar cap. At that point I decided it was going to be a night of deep sky observing. Without having a motor to track with I decided it would be a good night for sketching. It wasn’t unbearably cold out tonight, around 26°F, quite a treat after last weekends real feel in the negatives. My favorite thing about sketching is that it is exactly what I’m seeing through the telescope, no long exposure to get more detail out of it.

My first target of the night was a Messier object in the constellation Canes Venatici which in my location is only two stars visible; Alpha and Beta Canes Venatici. The object I located was the Whirlpool Galaxy, M51a&b. These two spiral galaxies are in the middle of a collision 23 million light years away, and M51 has a diameter of 38,000 light-years. The cores of both the galaxies are noticeable through the telescope, and you can just make out the connection between the two. Although I am unable to make out any spiral features from my light polluted skies this was still a great object to view.

M51a&b sketch with quick notes. Click to enlarge.

Even though there are quite a few other galaxies to view within Canes Venatici I moved on to another constellation after the galaxy M63 gave me a hard time – more like I couldn’t find it. So I moved on to a completely different area of the sky.

Ever since I got my first scope I have wanted to see the Leo Triplet in the constellation of, well I’m sure you can guess, Leo. I have not been able to see these until tonight. The Leo Triplet, also known as the M66 group, contains the three Galaxies; M65, M66, and NGC 3628 which are aroung 35 million light-years away. These three galaxies are below the 3.3 magnitude star Theta Leonis, and also happen to be above the planet Mars, so there are some easy ways to find this grouping. M65 and M66 are both intermediate spiral galaxies, while NGC 3628 is an unbarred spiral galaxy, which is almost directly edge on with our view. Having the three of these in my view immediately made me think of a smiley face with the two Messier galaxies as the eyes and NGC 3628 as the mouth.

The Leo Triplet from left to right: M65, M66, NGC 3628. Click to enlarge
As I got done with sketching this I looked up to see where I could point to do another sketch, I was on a roll. When I looked up I noticed that the majority of the sky was covered in clouds. Unfortunately I had to end my night there. I wanted to keep going, especially since the galaxy cluster between Leo and Virgo were just coming out from behind a tree. I’m sure I’ll get another chance.