The mere mention of the constellation Cassiopeia to a deep sky enthusiast conjures up visions of open star clusters like M52, M103, and the “ET Cluster” NGC 457. But if you move southward towards Cassiopeia’s border with Andromeda, you’ll come across a handful of galaxies that includes NGC 278 – this month’s Observer’s Challenge.
This nearly face-on spiral was discovered by William Herschel on the evening of December 11, 1786. It bears the Herschel Catalog designation H1591 (his 159th Class I [Bright Nebulae] object). Its calculated distance of 38 million light years translates to a true diameter of 26,000 light years.
I observed NGC 278 on the evening of September 20, 2020, using a 10-inch f/5 reflector. At 39X, it showed itself as a hazy “star.” A boost to 208X revealed a ghostly circular patch with no discernible concentration. NGC 278 was faitly visible in my 4.5-inch f/7.9 reflector. At 90X, it looked more like a planetary nebula than a galaxy.
The coordinates for NGC 278 are RA 0h 52m 04.3s, Dec +47o 33’ 02”. Star-hoppers can find it by tracing a path from 4th magnitude omicron (ο) Cassiopeiae (see finder charts below).
This chart was created with AAVSO’s Variable Star Plotter (VSP). Field is 2 degrees on a side, with North up. Numbers indicate star magnitudes (decimals omitted). The magnitude 4.5 star at upper right is omicron (ο) Cassiopeiae.
Image of NGC 278
Mario Motta (ATMoB) Taken with 32-inch scope using ASI6200 camera. 90 min total integration time. North up
Glenn Chaple (ATMoB) NGC 278 as seen with 10-inch f/5 reflector at 208X
*The purpose of the Observer’s Challenge is to encourage the pursuit of visual observing. It is open to everyone who is interested. If you’d like to contribute notes, drawings, or photographs, we’ll be happy to include them in our monthly summary. Submit your observing notes, sketches, and/or images to Roger Ivester (firstname.lastname@example.org). To find out more about the Observer’s Challenge or access past reports, log on to rogerivester.com/category/observers-challenge-reports.