Weekend Stargazer: April 28 – 30

Three galaxies lie in the same finder field as theta (θ) Leonis.

Mostly moonless nights over the weekend make this prime time for galaxy hunting. At nightfall, both Leo and Virgo are high in the south, and they’re chock-a-block with distant “island universes.” One of my favourite galaxy groupings is the Trio in Leo, which includes M65, M66 and NGC3628.

To see them well, though, you’ll need a dark sky—the feeble glow from distant galaxies doesn’t stand up well against a wash of city light pollution. The Trio in Leo are easy to locate. Start at 3.3-magnitude theta (θ) Leonis, then head south-southeast about 2½°. Of the three galaxies, M65 and M66 are the brightest, at magnitudes 10.1 and 9.6, respectively. Indeed, I’ve even glimpsed them in binoculars. But to add 10.4-magnitude NGC3628, you’ll need a telescope. The big edge-on appears dimmer than its magnitude indicates, yet a six-inch instrument will show it quite readily to complete the trio. If you have good sky conditions, you can probably succeed with something smaller.

There are several dozen galaxies in the region within the grasp of a modest telescope—these three in Leo are simply among the best. Get out your star atlas and spend a pleasant spring evening galaxy hopping.

To read about more events, check out my regular This Week’s Sky column at SkyNews.ca.