OBSERVER’S CHALLENGE* - APRIL, 2021
by Glenn Chaple
NGC 3226/3227 – Interacting Galaxies in Leo
NGC 3226 (Mag: 11.4, Size: 2.8’ X 2.4”) NGC 3227 (Mag: 10.3, Size: 4.1’ X 3.9’)
Our April Observer’s Challenge brings us to a cosmic double-header, the interacting galaxies NGC 3226 and NGC 3227. NGC 3227, the brighter of the pair at magnitude 10.3, is a Seyfert galaxy (a spiral galaxy with a quasar-like nucleus). Its partner, the dwarf elliptical galaxy NGC 3226, is about half as large and a magnitude fainter. The two are gravitationally bound and are listed in the Atlas of Peculiar Galaxies as Arp 94.
If you use a scope with GoTo technology, you’ll find these galaxies by plugging in the coordinates Right Ascension 10h23m30.6s and declination +19°51’54”. I suggest you skip the electronics and simply aim your scope at the 2nd magnitude star gamma (γ) Leonis (Algieba). NGC 3226 and NGC 3227 are less than a degree east. Before you go anywhere, however, center this star in the telescopic field and switch to an eyepiece that magnifies around 100X. Algieba is a showpiece binary pair whose components, of magnitudes 2.4 and 3.6, are currently separated by 4.7 arc-seconds. These spectral class K1 and G7 giants shine with striking golden yellow hues.
Once you’ve paid your respects to Algieba, keep your eye glued to the eyepiece as you slowly move eastward past a pair of 9th magnitude stars to the spot marked with an “+” on the accompanying finder chart. At this location, I was able to see a pair of hazy smudges (the nuclei of the two galaxies) separated by about 2 arc-minutes. I was using a 10-inch reflector and a magnifying power of 141X under magnitude 5 skies. There was no sign of the spiral arms of NGC 3227. The appearance of NGC 3226 and NGC 3227 was not unlike a small-scope view of M51 and its companion NGC 5195.
NGC 3226 and NGC 3227 were discovered by William Herschel on February 15, 1784. Their distance isn’t accurately known. The SIMBAD astronomical database cites 5 measurements that range from 51 to 73 million light years.
NGC 3226/3227 Finder Charts
Large scale chart from www.jwinman.com. Detailed chart adapted by Glenn Chaple from the AAVSO’s Variable Star Plotter (VSP). Stars shown to magnitude 11.0. 2.6 magnitude star is Algieba. Field is 1° on a side with north up.
Sketch by Glenn Chaple (ATMoB)
Image by Doug Paul (ATMoB) Canon 80D, 1200mm f/8.0 lens (150mm aperture), ISO 800, 2 hrs total exposure.
ATMoB) 32-inch f/6.5 scope, ASI6200 camera, 4 hrs total exposure
Image by Mario Motta