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The Princess' sky

Map 4: North Equatorial 1
Pegasus to Taurus
m31noao2501
Spiral galaxy M31 is in the constellation Andromeda.
Bill Schoening, Vanessa Harvey/REU program/NOAO/AURA/NSF
This map features two large constellations, Andromeda the Princess and Perseus the Hero; and two small ones, Triangulum the Triangle and Aries the Ram. All four have bright sections that make them easy to find.

Andromeda contains the ultimate northern deep-sky object: the Andromeda Galaxy (M31). Find it 1° west of Nu Andromedae. Visible to the naked eye even from moderately bright locations, M31 measures more than 3° long — or 6 Full Moons side by side.

The Andromeda Galaxy is a showpiece through any telescope. Small scopes with eyepieces that give a wide field of view let you study the galaxy's overall structure. Move up to a 6-inch scope at a dark site, and you'll see two dust lanes. Larger telescopes allow you to crank up the magnification and study individual features.

M31's two bright companions, M32 and NGC 205, are small elliptical galaxies. Such objects normally appear featureless, and this is accentuated by their positions near M31.

If you can tear your gaze from the Andromeda Galaxy, you'll be rewarded with a colorful sight in Andromeda: the Blue Snowball (NGC 7662), a planetary nebula lying 3,000 light-years away. Low-power views bring out NGC 7662's color best. More magnification reveals rich structure. A hollow region surrounds the 13th-magnitude central star.

Take a good look at Gamma Andromedae, a blue-and-orange double star, then move 3½° east to the spiral galaxy NGC 891. Veering only 1.4° from being exactly edge-on, NGC 891 is 4 times as long as it is wide, has a large, bright nucleus, and is split lengthwise by a dark dust lane. Point a 10-inch or larger scope at NGC 891, and you'll see why it makes so many "top 10" lists of best-to-observe galaxies.

If you're observing from a light-polluted site, point your telescope 4° west of 3rd-magnitude Alpha Trianguli to find the Pinwheel Galaxy (M33). From a dark site, no such directions are required because M33 is visible to the naked eye.

Through a telescope, M33 explodes into detail, with multiple spiral arms, bright stellar associations, and — through a 12-inch or larger telescope — the emission nebula NGC 604. For more on M33, see "Exploring the Pinwheel" in the November 2003 issue of Astronomy.

At the map's eastern edge lies the Pleiades (M45), a naked-eye star cluster, and, at magnitude 1.5, the brightest object in Messier's catalog. As you scan M45, let your telescopic gaze fall on Merope (23 Tauri). Surrounding this star is the Merope Nebula (NGC 1435), a cloud of gas passing through M45 and lit by its bright stars. Read more about M45 in "Lure of the Pleiades" in the January 2005 issue of Astronomy.
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