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Object of the Month July 2023

John Hobbs | Published on 12/2/2023



by Glenn Chaple

NGC 6217 Galaxy in Ursa Minor (Magnitude 11.2, Size 3.0’ X 2.4’)

            When it comes to offering galaxies for the backyard observer, Ursa Major and Ursa Minor are at opposite ends of the spectrum.  Sky and Telescope’s Pocket Sky Atlas plots several dozen in Ursa Major, nine in the Bowl alone, compared to just one in the entirety of Ursa Minor. Our July Observer’s Challenge is that lone Ursa Minor galaxy, NGC 6217.

            NGC 6217 was discovered by William Herschel on December 12, 1797, and is bright enough to be included in the Herschel 400 observing program. Its 2000.0 coordinates are: RA 16h32m39.2s, Dec +78o11’53.6”. Star-hoppers can find their way to NGC 6217 by working their way 2.5 degrees ENE from Zeta Ursae Minoris or a similar distance NNE from Eta Ursae Minoris.

            I observed NGC 6217 on the evening of June 19, 2023, using a 10-inch f/5 reflecting telescope and a magnifying power of 139X.  Under my suburban magnitude 5 skies, I was able with averted vision to make out a pair of starlike specks surrounded by a faint oval-shaped haze oriented in a NW to SE direction.  Upon returning indoors, I checked my resources and learned that the central-most speck was the galaxy’s nucleus, while the other was a foreground Milky Way star.

            Classified as a barred spiral galaxy, NGC 6217 is undergoing a high rate of star formation. Assuming a distance of 67 million light years, it has a diameter of 55,000 light years.

                                        NGC 6217 Finder Chart

Image by Mario Motta