NGC 3432 in Leo Minor

April 2023 - Galaxy of the Month

This interactive image of the NGC 3432 and was provided by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) using Aladin Sky Atlas. We also have a finder chart should help you locate these galaxies, as will this link for NGC 3432 on the Stellarium Web planetarium.

As we move into the brighter spring skies, I have stayed in the constellation of Leo Minor for this month’s GOM.

NGC 3432 was first discovered by William Herschel in 1785 and was included by Halton Arp in his atlas of peculiar galaxies as Arp 206. It was also added as VV11 in Vorontsov-Velyaminov’s catalogue.

NGC 3432 appears to be a barred spiral galaxy seen edge-on and is interacting with its neighbour the dwarf galaxy UGC 5983. This interaction appears to be causing intense star formation in NGC 3432 as well as filaments between them. The GALEX satellite image in the UV shows that star formation is occurring throughout the galaxy. Due to the amount of dust the core of the galaxy is not well seen.

Interestingly despite all the star formation going on NGC 3242 is not classified as a starburst galaxy. This maybe because the number of really massive stars being formed is not that high yet. It is suggested that the interaction with UGC 5983 took place very recently, say less than 400 million years ago and that is not enough for a full starburst to get going, in fact the star formation rate is unusually low at the moment. It appears that both ends of NGC 3432 are strongly warped from the gravitational attraction.

The pair is thought to lie about 30 million light-years from us. NGC 3432 was home to an unusual transient event catalogued as SN 2000ch, initially catalogued as a type II supernova it was later shown to be an LBV like Eta Car as it underwent numerous brightening events.

There is a Hubble image on NASA's website, although a more normal coloured image by the HST can be seen on NGC 3432’s Wikipedia page.

Interestingly the interaction does not appear to have sparked that much star formation in UGC 5983. There is an odd condensation though in NGC 3432 off to its northern end. At about 55,000 light-years across NGC 3432 is a relatively small galaxy. UGC 5983 is only 12-15 thousand light-years across and as such is a dwarf galaxy, about the size of the LMC. Observations suggest that NGC 3432 may hide an AGN of the LINER type at its core.

The galaxy makes it into a number of popular observing lists including the Astronomical Leagues H400 list and Stephen O’Meara’s The Secret Deep.

The visibility of the galaxy seems to depend on the observer’s location and the companion galaxy UGC 5983 appears to be very difficult to spot so that is the challenge for larger telescope observers.

The Night Sky Observer's Guide (NSOG) suggests that in 20-25cm telescopes the galaxy is visible as a long spindle, which is backed up by observations from the UK. In 40-45cm telescopes the suggestion is that it will show some of the mottling in the spindle. Unfortunately, there are no large telescope observations in NSOG. There are also observations of the galaxy with a wide range of telescopes on the Webb Deep-Sky Society Observer's Handbook (WSDSOH) Volume 4.

I suspect that using a medium power may be best to see this galaxy, although if the seeing and transparency conditions are good then high power may tease out UGC 5983.

Owen Brazell - Galaxy Section Director