at the Water's Edge

Living life and learning all I can along the way!

Galaxy Hunting

Early in March, with the rise of the “Super Moon” – I started getting excited about getting outside with my telescope again.  I found a list of things to look for in March, and found out that Spring is a good time to view galaxies within the Coma/Virgo Super Cluster.  The only problem was weather.  It has been a COLD spring this year – the very opposite of last year.  The warmer days have been dominated by gloomy skies and rain showers.  The few days that it has been clear and warmish I’ve not gotten a chance to get outside.  Tonight was warm, and mostly clear.  I could see a good number of stars in the sky, and I decided it was high time to bust out my telescope and do some galaxy hunting!

Last fall, I had my first experience looking at a whole galaxy through my telescope, as I inadvertently found Andromeda while comet-hunting.  Comet hunting didn’t go so well, and now I know what galaxies look like (a faint smudge or blur), so I thought I might have slightly better luck galaxy-hunting.  Plus, there are LOTS of galaxies within view in the night sky.  Rather than trying to track down one little comet, I had many potential targets this time!

Well, I was slightly more successful in my galaxy hunting than I was in comet hunting.  I found one.  It took a long time.  I was basically panning the sky in the area between the bottom of the constellation Bootes (basically, the star Arcturus) and the rear end of the constellation Leo.   
My general search area
Finally, after a long time of searching somewhat aimlessly, I happened upon a very faint smudge in the sky.  I had to look several times to be sure it was there.  It was.  I had found a galaxy!  That got me excited, and I frantically searched the area nearby for another, to no avail.  I did eventually end up back at the same one, however, which encouraged me to really memorize the stars I could see around it so that I could try to identify it once I got back inside.

I immediately went to my Starry Night program and searched the area I thought I was looking in to see what galaxies were in the vicinity.  There were a few nearby, but judging from the arrangement of the stars, I’m pretty certain I was looking at Messier 87 (M87), an elliptical galaxy.  I had seen an arc of three or four stars on one side of the galaxy and one bright one on the other side.

What I think I was looking at through my telescope
The sad news, if there is any, is that M87 is the biggest and brightest galaxy within the Virgo Cluster.  Why is that sad, you ask?  Because if it was that difficult for me to find M87, I don’t imagine I will have much luck finding any of the other galaxies.  However, there was a very faint layer of clouds in the sky, so I am hoping that that was obscuring my view and that if I go out on a totally clear night, I will be able to find another galaxy!  But here's to Messier 87 - the second galaxy spotted through my telescope!

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Hi there! My name is Dana and I live in West Michigan with my husband, Tom and our dog Copernicus. I created this space as a place to share the things I learn along this journey I call life. I work in marketing and I'm a sort of Jane of All Trades, interested in all things nature, gardening, cooking, exploring and learning new things. This blog is a conglomeration of my interests, hobbies, life and life lessons. Thanks for stopping by!