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Faint southern stars

Map 24: South Polar 3
Corona Australis to Horologium
ngc_6744_aao_250
Spiral galaxy NGC 6744 is located in the constellation Pavo.
Anglo-Australian Observatory

The region of Map 24 at first seems to present a challenge. The constellations are faint, and only one 1st-magnitude star lights the way. Still, with a good telescope under a clear, dark sky, you can observe many treasures.

Point your telescope to the western edge of Pavo, near 4th-magnitude Eta Pavonis, and you'll find the irregular galaxy IC 4662 just 10' northeast of the star. For a better view of the magnitude 11.1 galaxy, position Eta Pav just outside the field of view. Through a 12-inch or larger telescope, you'll be able to pick out IC 4662's large stellar association that contains two emission nebulae. This complex dominates the galaxy's appearance. IC 4662 measures 3.2' by 1.9'.

NGC 6684, a magnitude 10.4, barred spiral galaxy, lies 6° east of Eta Pav, and just 10' south of Theta Pavonis. Through an 8-inch scope, you'll see a bright core surrounded by a circular halo 2' across.

Move another 3° to the east-northeast, and you'll find spiral galaxy NGC 6744. With a magnitude of 8.6, you might think this would be a spectacular galaxy with plenty of spiral detail. Unfortunately, that's not the case. Because the light from NGC 6744 spreads out over a large area, small and medium telescopes don't bring the spiral arms into view. The 7th-magnitude star SAO 254453 lies ½° west of NGC 6744.

Through a 12-inch telescope, you'll see a bright oval measuring 5' by 3' with an even brighter core. The outer reaches of the halo appear clumpy, which suggests spiral structure, but the arms are not easy to see.

Just 4° north of NGC 6744 lies one of the sky's brightest globular clusters, NGC 6752. You'll have no trouble spotting this magnitude 5.5 object with your naked eyes from a dark site. Through a 6-inch telescope, you'll see hundreds of stars starting at the cluster's outer regions and continuing to the strongly concentrated core. An 8th-magnitude star lies near the southeastern edge of the densest part of the cluster. NGC 6752 looks big and bright because it's nearby &emdash; only 13,000 light-years away.

In the southern reaches of Pavo, you'll find the bright elliptical galaxy NGC 6876 2.5° northeast of 4th-magnitude Epsilon Pavonis. This object lies at the center of a rich galaxy cluster. A 10-inch telescope shows the evidence; it brings several fainter companions into view. NGC 6876 appears as a bright, circular smudge with a fairly wide, concentrated core. Two 12th-magnitude companions, NGC 6877 and NGC 6880, lie 2' and 6' to the east, respectively. And panning 9' to the northeast will bring you to NGC 6872, a barred spiral galaxy that reveals only a faint core to all but the largest amateur telescopes.

Midway between Theta and Delta Indi lies the fine spindle of NGC 7090. At a distance of just 20 million light-years, this spiral galaxy extends a full 6' in an 8-inch scope. It's also reasonably bright, glowing at magnitude 10.7. The galaxy's disk inclines just 5° to our line of sight and measures less than 1' wide. Use a 12-inch telescope, and you'll see a broad, concentrated center. Any further detail, such as mottling in the spiral arms, takes a much larger scope.

In Octans, you can find NGC 7098 lying pretty much alone. Through a 12-inch telescope, the galaxy measures 3' by 2' and is slightly elongated northeast-southwest. The galaxy is moderately bright (magnitude 11.4), and it has a broad, concentrated center. Look for a pair of 11th- and 12th-magnitude stars 6' to the southwest.

Remember Kemble's Cascade (see Map 1)? A similar object — Melotte 227 — lies in Octans. Melotte 227 looks like an open cluster containing about 20 stars between magnitudes 7 and 10. In 1998, however, astronomers learned the stars don't share a common motion through space but are a random concentration of stars at various distances. Still, it's worth a look through binoculars or a telescope/eyepiece combination that gives at least a 2° field of view.

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