Messier 102 (NGC 5866) in Draco
May 2022 - Picture of the Month
When I saw this Hubble Space Telescope (HST) image again, and given that Messier 102 (NGC 5866 if you prefer) is high in our May sky, I just had to feature this galaxy. But try as I might to find an amateur image to do it justice I kept coming up blank. So I'll admit it, I cheated and use the venerable HST image you see above.
Obviously what makes this galaxy so spectacular is that filigree dust lane that, because we're viewing it edge-on, is superimposed on its bright disk of blue stars and its core. The HST image shows it off beautifully, but it's even more impressive in the full resolution images. I love the contrasting clean glow from the outer halo too.
Given that Messier 102 is classed as a lenticular galaxy a dust disk like this is unusual. On the other hand it might be a misclassified spiral that we're looking at, and the mystery goes away. It's hard to be certain from this angle. There are also signs that the dust disk has been disturbed, perhaps as the result of a merger?
From the ground
Clearly even elderly space telescopes have an edge when it comes to resolution, so in addition to the featured image from orbit I wanted to show you an image taken with professional equipment from the Kitt Peak observatory back in 1995. Some of that detail in the dust lane is still visible.
But equipment and techniques have moved on, and in 2019 I received this image from David Davies, duly adding M102 to our Observations section. I've included a cropped of that image that I've rotated to the same orientation of the one above.
Pretty close I think you'll agree, better in many regards. And not take at altitude, but from near sea-level with murky jetstream washed skies on some of our shortest nights. If you read David's notes you also discover that he was using a 203mm aperture scope and not the 900mm of Kitt Peak.
So why is it so hard to find other good amateur images of this impressive edge-on galaxy when other Messier objects are so frequently imaged I wonder? Now is a good time to put that right 😁
James Whinfrey - Website Administrator.