By: "Tony Cecce, Corning, NY"

Twelve Month Tour of the Messier Catalog
January Messier Objects

This month on the tour we will be attempting several of the most difficult objects in the Catalog, a small faint planetary nebula, and a pair of face on spiral galaxies. Also featured this month is a small, but fairly bright galaxy and three open clusters. You will need binoculars and a telescope to fully enjoy the January tour.

[M33 Image] M33 - This is a very large (about the size of the full moon) face on spiral galaxy in the constellation Triangulum. The total light from M33 is about magnitude 5.3, but when spread out over its large area it yields a very low surface brightness. The best and easiest views of M33 can be found with a pair of binoculars. Look for a large, round hazy patch of light with little detail at first glance. M33 can be glimpsed with the naked eye in dark clear skies. Finding M33 in a telescope can be a challenge because of its size. Use the widest field eyepiece you have and look for a change in light level to identify the galaxy.

[M103 Image] M103 - This is a fairly small, sparse open cluster in Cassiopeia. Look for a tight group of stars in binoculars, being careful not to mistake it for several other clusters in the same area. Through a telescope the cluster is very sparse, four bright stars amidst the slight glow of much fainter companions.

[M52 Image] M52 - M52 - This rich open cluster in Cassiopeia is fairly easy to see in binoculars as a faint smudge of light. A small to mid telescope will begin to resolve this cluster. Look for a triangular patch of light with some stars clearly resolved, but most of the cluster members provide only a hint of graininess.

[M33 Image] M76 - Known as the little dumbell, this planetary nebula in Perseus is one of the dimmest objects in the Catalog. Look for a small, faint, oblong patch of light. Not a very obvious object, if you don't see it at first try varying magnifications in an attempt to bring it out. Fortunately M76 is located near a bright star which aids in locating the correct field to search.

[M34 Image] M34 - This is a large and bright, but sparse open cluster located in Perseus. Visible as a faint patch of light to the naked eye, it is very obvious and easy to resolve in binoculars. In fact, binoculars provide a better view of this cluster than most telescopes.

[M74 Image] M74 - This galaxy in Pisces is a smaller and fainter version of M33, a face on spiral galaxy with low surface brightness. M74 is arguably the most difficult object to find in the Catalog. You will need very dark, clear skies to easily see it, anything less than perfect conditions will make M74 nearly impossible to find. Look for a very faint fuzzy star, which is the bright central condensation, surrounded by a very faint glow. Try all of your tricks on this one; star hop to the correct field, try varying magnification, tap the scope to detect the galaxy through its motion. If all of the above fail, try again another night or seek darker skies.

[M77 Image] M77 - This is a small faint galaxy in Cetus. Possible to see in binoculars, but very difficult, look for a faint fuzzy star. Through a telescope look for a fuzzy, oval shaped patch of light, bright in the center, fading towards the edges.

Last Month - M2, M15, M29, M31, M32, M39, M110
Next Month - M1, M35, M36, M37, M38, M42, M43, M45, M78, M79
                                                Revision 1/96, A.J. Cecce