Exploring Obscure Galaxies of the UGC

    With the introduction of extensive star atlases such as Uranometria 2000.0 and the Millenium Star Atlas, avid deep-sky observers have been given an entirely new view into the depth and diversity of the visual universe. Some of the more intriguing examples of objects that were made more accessible are galaxies having the UGC designation. The Uppsala General Catalogue of Galaxies is quite immense and contains many of our old favorites, such as the Andromeda Galaxy, the Whirlpool, and even the Sombrero. However, many of the lesser-known UGC galaxies can prove to be quite exciting on one of those nights when you feel like straying just a bit off of the beaten path. The only prerequisites are a little patience and a desire to go beyond the customary deep-sky references.

    A very good introduction to less common galaxies of the UGC can be found within the borders of the great Giraffe, Camelopardalis. A delicate spiral glowing at about 12th magnitude, UGC 3580 resides just over five degrees northwest of the showpiece galaxy NGC 2403. Despite its lack of popularity, UGC 3580 has a suprisingly high surface brightness and is not a difficult find under good skies with a moderate sized telescope. It appeared as very small yet fairly prominent at just 59x in a 16-inch scope. At powers approaching 400x, the galaxy displayed a bright oval core enveloped by a gradually fading halo just over one arcminute in length and oriented nearly north-south. Meanwhile, a 14th magnitude star could be seen almost in contact with the objects eastern edge.

    Star-hopping just over two degrees to the northeast brings us to the fascinating UGC 3697, also known as the Integral Sign Galaxy. Despite its rather attractive name, this peculiar edge-on spiral can prove to be quite challenging on less than optimum nights. It took 103x for me to even begin to pull this guy out of my 6th magnitude suburban skies. Powers over 200x easily showed the galaxy as a thin glowing sliver extending more than two arcminutes in a nearly east-west direction. Much more prominent than the Integral Sign, however, is its nearby companion UGC 3714, lying some 7 arcminutes to the southeast. Even at lower powers, this small oval galaxy contains a relatively bright core surrounded by a 1 arcminute halo. This extragalactic pairing provides quite an impressive sight when both are captured within the same 300x field of view under a very dark sky. Such a power also helps to avoid the glare presented by a pair of nearby 6th magnitude stars framing the galaxies to the north.

    Scanning southward into the constellation of Lynx brings us to UGC 3828, a small yet graceful face-on spiral. At moderate to higher powers, this galaxy exhibited an elongated oval halo containing a round inner disc and a relatively bright stellar core. Under further scrutiny, the very edges of the halo seemed quite irregular and even gave a hint of the face-on structure commonly seen in more prominent galaxies of this orientation. Under the pristine skies of west Texas, I was even able to glimpse this faint fuzzy in a 10-inch instrument as a tiny diffuse glow with a slightly brighter center.

    Continuing toward the celestial equator brings us to Sextans, home of UGC 5373 – the Sextans Dwarf. Unlike UGC 3828, this nearby dwarf irregular-type galaxy does not have much of a central concentration. It instead appears as a very soft oval glow with very diffuse and ill-defined edges. At 186x, the brightest portion of the Sextans Dwarf seemed to have a mottled and somewhat granular surface, just as a distant globular cluster at the very edge of resolution. With this object being a member of the Local Group of Galaxies, it may be very possible for observers using scopes of 20-inches or more aperture to actually resolve individual stars from within this peculiar object. It would certainly be a challenge worth attempting.

    The northern costellation of Ursa Major also contains many brilliant examples of lesser-known UGC galaxies, however, two in particular are certainly worth hunting down. Cradled within a small gathering of 8th and 9th magnitude stars, UGC 5459 is a fine spindle-like spiral having an annoying star grazing its southeastern tip. At 293x, the galaxy displayed a very intriguing three arcminute long disc nicely elongated in a northwest-southeast manner. Interestingly, the inner core appeared as a relatively bright, elongated patch that seemed to be slightly offset from the actual center of the galactic disc. Somewhat more difficult yet equally satisfying is UGC 5612, a peculiar barred-spiral located in the northern flank of the “big bear”. Because of its highly irregular distribution of starlight, moderate power was required for me to even spot the brightest portion of this guy. Once found, however, a broad oval glow could be seen containing a conspicuous 12th magnitude star just to the west of its center. What a wonderful challenge!

    Speaking of challenges, we can’t possibly end the night without glimpsing UGC 5829, also known as the Spider. Located just over two degrees to the west of the 3.8 magnitude star 46 Leo Minoris, this strange object happens to be one of my all-time favorite deep-sky challenges. With the use of finely-tuned averted vision, its low surface brightness and irregular character is quite evident at just 59x. At powers approaching 200x, the two arcminute wide disc is obviously mottled while its edges seem extremely difficult to define. There is obviously much more to this galaxy than meets the eye. Does it look like an arachnid? It’s hard to tell, but this is certainly not your typical nightly quarry of spirals and ellipticals. Don’t you agree? Either way, the Spider definitely sets a spectacular stage for the thousands of other unexplored galaxies belonging to the Uppsala General Catalogue. So try not to ignore all of those tiny ovals that are so commonly overlooked throughout the pages of modern atlases. You will often find the hunt to be much more rewarding than the actual find!