FUZZY SPOT, May 1997, Ursa Major

Ursa Major is probably the first constellation most people learn to recognize (with the possible exception of Orion).  The famous asterism, the Big Dipper, is recognizable both in name and form to almost everyone.  According to Patrick Moore in Exploring the Night Sky with Binoculars (Cambridge University Press), this asterism is also known as the Plough and King Charles’ Wain.

Ursa Major contains a whopping 46 of the Herschell 400 objects (second only to Virgo) and 10 of the SAC’s 110 Best of the NGC Objects (the leader in this catalog).  Obviously I can’t fit all of them in one column (they probably wouldn’t fit in one newsletter), so I am going to cover the objects in the “bowl” of the dipper (the list at the end is the entire constellation).  This area is scattered with galaxies, Sky Atlas 2000 contains 13 galaxies, Uranometria 2000 shows 50 galaxies, and the SAC Deep Sky Database shows 51 galaxies plus a galaxy cluster!

        NGC 3610 (09 24.3 +34 32)  This galaxy is not too big, has a very very bright middle, but the halo is pretty faint. It is round and contains a stellar nucleus.  There are dim stars to the W and SSE, and a bright star to the NE.

        NGC 3613 (10 36.3 +37 20)  I saw this galaxy as pretty bright, somewhat small, elongated E/W, a brighter middle which is also elongated E/W, and no nucleus.  There is a nice pattern of 4 start around this galaxy, with the two brighter one on the N and S, and the fainter ones on the NW and SW.  A second very faint galaxy was suspected to the E, but this turned out to be just averted imagination.

        NGC 3619 (10 43.5 +24 55)  This galaxy is pretty small, not very bright, but has a bright middle with a possible stellar nucleus.  Averted vision really helps bring out the halo which is round.  This object does not take magnification very well, and was almost lost at 140X.

        NGC 3898 (10 49.8 +32 59) This galaxy is situated SE of a string of 3 stars.  It is pretty bright, somewhat large, much brighter in the middle with a non-stellar nucleus, possibly elongated E/W.  The halo is pretty large and extended, averted vision helps in viewing it.  An occasional star was seen to the W of the nucleus, and a star just E of the halo was noted.  West of the three bright stars, galaxy NGC 3888 was noted.

        NGC 3982 (10 51.3 +27.59)  This is one of 4 galaxies visible in a single low power field of view (the others are 3972, 3998, and 3990).  This is the second brightest of the 4, and is somewhat bright, somewhat small, possible slight elongation E/W, and a bright middle.  The galaxy forms the apex of an isosceles triangle with two stars to the S.

        NGC 3998 (10 52.5 +36 37)  This galaxy is the brightest of the group of 4 (see 3982).  It is pretty bright, pretty small, definitely round with a very bright middle.  The halo is pretty faint, and averted vision doesn’t help that much.  This galaxy along with 3 other stars form a nice trapezoid pattern, and another faint star makes it a nice “Cassiopeia” shape.  Upon closer examination of this faint star, I noticed it was slightly fuzzy.  This turned out to be NGC 3990, the fourth galaxy of the group.  It is always nice to stumble across an unexpected object like this, and this discovery made this the most interesting observation in the bowl of the Big Dipper.

Herschell 400 Objects
2681, 2742, 2768, 2787, 2841, 2950, 2976, 2985, 3034, 3077, 3079, 3184, 3198, 3310, 3556, 3610, 3613, 3619, 3631, 3665, 3675, 3726, 3729, 3813, 3877, 3893, 3898, 3938, 3941, 3945, 3949, 3953, 3982, 3992, 3998, 4026, 4036, 4041, 4051, 4085, 4088, 4102, 5322, 5473, 5474, 5631
SAC’s 110 Best of the NGC Objects
2841, 3077, 3079, 3184, 3675, 3877, 3941, 4026, 4088, 4605