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The sky's Furnace

Map 16: South Equatorial 1
Sculptor to Caelum
ngc_1365_noao_250
Spiral galaxy NGC 1365 is located in the constellation Fornax.
SSRO/PROMPT and NOAO/AURA/NSF

As the star maps dip deeper into the southern sky, we start to see constellations unfamiliar to most Northern Hemisphere observers: Fornax the Furnace, Sculptor the Engraver's Tool, Phoenix the Phoenix, and Horologium the Clock. This region's stars are bright, but we're far from the Milky Way, and that means galaxies abound.

For starters, insert an eyepiece that will give you at least a 2° field of view, and point your telescope at the Fornax Dwarf Galaxy. Move your scope back and forth to bring out a haze just brighter than the background sky. This object doesn't have a corresponding NGC number because it was discovered much later than 1888, when that catalog was published. This nearby galaxy — it's only 450,000 light-years away — is one of the Milky Way's closest dwarf companions.

If you're having trouble identifying the Fornax Dwarf, look for its brightest globular cluster, which is easier to see. NGC 1049 glows at magnitude 12.6 and is brighter toward its center.

Find the star Beta Fornacis and move 2° north to the barred spiral galaxy NGC 1097. The core is this magnitude 9.5 galaxy's bright point, then the bar, which extends in a northwest-to-southeast direction, and finally, the spiral arms. You'll need at least a 12-inch telescope and a dark sky to see this last feature.

Breaking from our galactic treasure hunt, we find planetary nebula NGC 1360. Its overall magnitude is a healthy 9.4, but this is spread out over a circle more than 6' across. As with all planetary nebulae, a nebula or OIII filter — which passes wavelengths planetaries emit — helps a lot. The Virgo cluster of galaxies is the sky's best-known galaxy cluster (see Map 13). Not far behind is the Fornax galaxy cluster. Under a dark sky, an 8-inch scope will let you see dozens of galaxies within a several-degree-wide swath of sky.

One of the brightest members of the Fornax cluster is magnitude 9.3 NGC 1365, the finest barred spiral galaxy in the sky. Its bar extends 4' in an east-west orientation; the central 2' is the nucleus. An 8-inch telescope easily resolves the spiral arms, of which the northern — extending from the west end of the bar — is the brightest.

The Fornax galaxy cluster's central region spans a scant 2°, but, through a 16-inch telescope, you'll see more than 100 galaxies. Even a 6-inch scope will show several dozen.

Start with NGC 1374. This magnitude 11 galaxy is 2.5' across and has a fainter companion (NGC 1375) 3' to the south. Pan ¼° southeast to reach NGC 1379, a circular elliptical galaxy that also glows at magnitude 11. Move north ½° to NGC 1380. This 10th-magnitude barred spiral shows a 4.5' by 2.5' oval with a 13th-magnitude star just to the west. Nearby, you'll notice magnitude 11.5 NGC 1381 and magnitude 10.8 NGC 1387.

Finally, in the same high-power field of view, you'll see the twin elliptical galaxies NGC 1399 and NGC 1404. Magnitude 8.8 NGC 1399 is the Fornax galaxy cluster's brightest member. It's slightly elongated, measuring 6.9' by 6.5'. At magnitude 9.7, NGC 1404 is fainter and one-quarter the size of NGC 1399. NGC 1404 measures 3.3' by 3.0'.

Head south of Fornax into Eridanus and observe the barred spiral galaxy NGC 1291. You won't see the bar of this bright (magnitude 8.5) galaxy, but you will see its oval shape and intense core.

A bit more than 2° north of Tau4 Eridani lies NGC 1300, another classic barred spiral galaxy. The core of this magnitude 10.4 object appears oval. The spiral arms glow brightest near the ends of the nucleus' long axis then wind tightly back around the bar.

Now, let's move into Sculptor. When you target objects in this constellation, you'll want to set aside a good portion of the night. You'll find no less than four named galaxies in Sculptor, the highest number contained by any constellation. This quartet also is easy to see — each shines brighter than 9th magnitude.

The Cigar Galaxy (NGC 55) can be found about 4° northwest of Alpha Phoenicis. This magnitude 8.1 galaxy lies 5 million light-years away. Nearly ½° long, NGC 55 is unusual because most of its stars are offset west of center, rather than concentrated in its core. This galaxy is one of the few that benefits from a nebula filter. Such a filter suppresses NGC 55's stars, and several large ionized hydrogen clouds pop into view.

Another magnitude 8.1 galaxy in Sculptor is the Southern Pinwheel Galaxy (NGC 300), which resembles its northern namesake, the Pinwheel Galaxy (M33) in Triangulum. Because it appears face-on, however, NGC 300 has a much lower surface brightness than NGC 55. To see the spiral arms well, you'll need a wide-field eyepiece on a 12-inch or larger scope.

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