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Easiest and / or Best Spiral Galaxy to Observe?


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Question might be better placed in the beginners section, but what would you say is (1) the easiest spiral galaxy and (2) the best spiral galaxy to observe? I am not looking for the best one to image, just observe. If it helps with either question, I have got a NexStar 8SE, so some suggestion appropriate to this scope would be great :)

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In terms of just seeing it, M31 whether it's in the city or a dark site.

For seeing detail, I'm not so sure. From a really dark site I suspect a face-on spiral might more readily show its arms than M31 which we see at an angle. M33 has some HII regions that are quite compact and should show in a good-sized Dob. With light pollution around, I wonder if the very dark dust lanes in galaxies like M104 (Sombrero) would be easier to see.

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M51 has proved "easiest" for me to see distinct spiral structure in. It needs a dark, transparent night and the galaxy to be as high overhead as possible but 10" and 12" scopes have shown the spiral nature, in the latter it was very clear under a really dark sky at the SGL star party a few years back. 

A couple of years later at the same location I viewed this galaxy with a 20" scope and the view was truly marvelous - I'll never forget it  :grin:

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Thanks for all the replies.  I will aim at M31, 51, 81 & 82; but probably being a bit optimistic for seeing from the back garden (lot of light pollution :().  Hoping to try a dark sky site (Butser Ancient Farm) near me in the near future and these will be my main targets when I get there :)

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Thanks for all the replies.  I will aim at M31, 51, 81 & 82; but probably being a bit optimistic for seeing from the back garden (lot of light pollution :().  Hoping to try a dark sky site (Butser Ancient Farm) near me in the near future and these will be my main targets when I get there :)

Depends what detail you want to see. They are all all visible in binoculars or even the naked eye for M31, from my back garden. To see dust lanes, sprial structure etc, you do need those really dark, transparent skies and some aperture although I've seen hints of the dust lanes in M31 with my 4" ED refractor and a low power, ultra wide eyepiece from home.

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have you ever been to a dark site with a small dob?

Yup, my 5" minidob, it was all I had. At a dark location it outperforms my 10" dob in town, and has a nice wide FoV. M31 still crossed the eyepiece, with M32 and M110 above and below it. Fantastic, the best view of M31 I've had yet.

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Depends what detail you want to see. They are all all visible in binoculars or even the naked eye for M31, from my back garden. To see dust lanes, sprial structure etc, you do need those really dark, transparent skies and some aperture although I've seen hints of the dust lanes in M31 with my 4" ED refractor and a low power, ultra wide eyepiece from home.

I am hoping to observe the 'dust' in the spirals, kind like I can see the nebula / dust in M42.  I will try from a dark site, but are there any filters which might help me out with the viewing of these spiral galaxies?

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I am hoping to observe the 'dust' in the spirals, kind like I can see the nebula / dust in M42.  I will try from a dark site, but are there any filters which might help me out with the viewing of these spiral galaxies?

Filters can help pick out HII regions in M101and M33 but do zip on dust lanes I'm afraid. Dark skies and good dark adaption are your best friends for these.

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I have seen M33's spirals from excellent skies,from average skies with M51 a bit low the spirals barely revealed themselves-so as others have said dark transparent skies are key.Tomorrow night looks promising and M51 is my priority.I know one thing.....persistence helps! :smiley:

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If you want to see spiral structure then start with M51, the first spiral to be identified. You need a dark site (the most important thing) and probably at least 8 or 10 inches of aperture - with 12 it's easy. Early observers (e.g. John Herschel with an 18 inch scope) saw the main galaxy as a circle surrounding a smaller disc, with dark space in between. Rosse etc (with the 72 inch Leviathan) saw that the outer circle was made up of spiral arms which continue to the centre. Nowadays we know what it looks like from photos, so can see the spiral arms with an 8 inch.

The spiral structure of M31 was only confirmed with the advent of photography. Nowadays we know how to interpret the dust lane which early observers saw as a rift or cleft. To see dust lanes etc, try M64 (the nickname "Black Eye" comes from a description by William Herschel) or NGC 4565 (a famous edge-on which Wikipedia now knows as the "Needle Galaxy" - don't know who came up with that one). For interesting shapes try the interacting pair NGC 4656/4657, popularly known as the "hockey stick", or 4567/4568, the "Siamese twins". All of these details can be seen with an 8" at a dark site.

The spiral form of M33 is more tricky, but again, an 8" can show the S-shape if you're patient. The spiral stucture of M101 is hard - I've managed with a 12", by picking out individual NGC-listed objects in the arms. With a 12" at a dark site there are a huge number of galaxies that show interesting detail, and it often becomes possible to identify a galaxy's Hubble class by eye. But it never looks like the photos - you've got to work at teasing out whatever detail you can.

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I would add M65 and M66 in Leo..these are well up by 10pm, fairly easy to locate and seeing both side by side to compare gives a great view..

Mark

Sent from my BlackBerry 9320 using Tapatalk

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+1 for M51. I can see the spiral structure quite well when it is high up with my 10 inch dob under okay skies at home. I think an 8 inch under darker skies such as at Kelling would give my 10 at home a run for its money.

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From you garden, even the 8" may not show too much of M33, but from the dark side of Butser Hill it will

be a stunning sight as it has many condensations and bright star formin areas to it.

You just need to aclimatise, then spend a lot of time looking at it, the more you do the more you will see.

M31 is not as well off for features, but is a lot brighter and you get 3 for 1 with M32 and M110 as well.

Mick

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