From the January 2024 issue

Abell 194

By | Published: January 1, 2024 | Last updated on January 8, 2024

Abell 194 is a tight cluster of 100 or more galaxies about 250 million light-years distant in Cetus the Whale, and about 1° southeast of 7th-magnitude 43 Ceti. The cluster’s heart harbors 10 objects from the New General Catalogue shining roughly between magnitudes 12 and 13.5. Seven of these are arranged in a line along with several fainter objects, oriented northeast-southwest. They stretch across 30′ of sky like a piece of extragalactic thread.

The cluster’s brightest member is also the most peculiar. Shining at 12th-magnitude, NGC 541 has a long radio jet that appears to be interacting with a blue dwarf galaxy (Minkowski’s Object) just 1′ to the east-northeast. Recent studies have shown that the dwarf’s young stellar population (roughly 7.5 million years old) suggests that NGC 541’s jet either induced hot, young blue stars to form in clumps of gas in a stellar bridge that connects with Minkowski’s Object, or it heightened the dwarf galaxy’s star formation rate by directly interacting with it.

Many fainter galaxies make up the rest of Abell 194. Observers using moderate to large telescopes have plumbed the depths of this cluster, which offers a bright congregation of galaxies to amateur astronomers. I’m not aware of any visual observations of Minkowski’s Object, however. Sighting it would be a great challenge for monster-scope users, especially at star parties.