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Cosmic Challenge: NGC 1 and NGC 2

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Cosmic Challenge:
December 2019

NGC 1 and NGC 2

Phil Harrington


This month's suggested aperture range:

10-inch (25cm) to 14-inch (36cm) telescopes












00h 07.3m

+27° 42.5'






00h 07.3m

+27° 40.7'





As 2019 draws to an end, let's talk about a first.  I am always interested in seeing the first of anything, whether it's the first day of a new year, the opening day of baseball season, the first robin of spring, the first snowflake of winter, or the first object in a particular deep-sky catalog. In the case of the latter, NGC 1, along with NGC 2, create our final challenge of the year.

Above: Early evening star map. Credit: Map adapted from Star Watch by Phil Harrington

Above: Finder chart for this month's Cosmic Challenge.
Click on the chart to open a printable PDF version.




When he assembled and published the New General Catalogue of Nebulae and Clusters of Stars, or NGC, in 1888, John L.E. Dreyer (1852-1926) decided to organize the more than 7,800 entries in order of increasing right ascension beginning at 00 hours. In epoch 1860 coordinates, upon which the original NGC was based, this tiny pair of galaxies came in first, with NGC 1's position listed as 00h 00m 04s. But in the ensuing years, Earth's precession -- that slow, circular, 26,000-year wobbling of our rotational axis -- has shifting the celestial coordinate system underneath the stars. Today, in epoch 2000 coordinates, no fewer than 30 NGC objects have "lower" Right Ascension values than NGC 1.


We are not going to let that little fact spoil our fun, are we? Never! NGC 1 and NGC 2 still present formidable challenges for our telescopes. Together, these spiral galaxies are located 1.4° south of Alpheratz, the star at the northeastern corner of the Great Square (although technically, Alpheratz belongs to neighboring Andromeda; hence its dual identity of Alpha [α] Andromedae). Follow a crooked line of four 6.5-magnitude stars that extends from Alpheratz to the southwest for about 1½°. The fourth star in that line, the yellow giant SAO 73733, is ½° due west of our galactic pair.


Above:  NGC 1 and NGC 2 as seen through the author's 10-inch (25cm) reflector.  The position of NGC 7839 is also circled, although as noted in the text, that is actually a misidentified pair of faint stars.



NGC 1 is the brighter of the galaxies, and may actually be visible in telescopes as small as 6 inches in aperture under dark skies. My 10-inch at 58x uncovers a dim, oval disk just 2' south of an 11th-magnitude star. By increasing magnification to 106x and using averted vision, I can just spot a stellar core in the center. The core becomes easier to see by increasing magnification three- or four-fold, but only under steady seeing.


I also find that 106x is just right for spotting the small, dim disk of NGC 2 through the 10-inch. Like NGC 1, NGC 2 is slightly elongated and oriented approximately northwest-southeast. NGC 2 is three times fainter than its neighbor, so only shows a faint, uniform glow. Get set to use averted vision just to spot it, regardless of magnification.


Despite their close proximity to each other, NGC 1 and NGC 2 do not constitute a true physical pair. Astronomers can tell that NGC 2 is farther away than NGC 1 by studying the redshifts in their spectra, as well as by comparing the level of structural detail visible in photographs. Today's best estimates place NGC 1 at approximately 215 million light years away, while NGC 2's calculated distance is about 345 million light years.


Incidentally, some charts also plot another target, NGC 7839, in the immediate area. Although this object can appear "nebulous" through telescopes, it turns out that NGC 7839 is nothing more than a pair of very faint Milky Way stars some 4' southwest of NGC 2.


Good luck! And be sure to post your results in this column's discussion forum.


Until next month, remember that half of the fun is the thrill of the chase.  Game on!

About the Author:

Phil Harrington writes the monthly Binocular Universe column in Astronomy magazine and is the author of 9 books on astronomy.  Visit www.philharrington.net to learn more.


A revised, second printing of Cosmic Challenge: The Ultimate Observing List for Amateurs is now available with updated data tables and charts for finding various solar system objects, such as Pluto and Vesta, as well as improved renditions of the many eyepiece sketches that accompany each of the 187 challenges encompassing more than 500 individual objects.  The book is available from Amazon.com.  

Phil Harrington's Cosmic Challenge is copyright 2019 by Philip S. Harrington.  All rights reserved.  No reproduction, in whole or in part, beyond single copies for use by an individual, is permitted without written permission of the copyright holder.


  • Dave Mitsky, random, okiestarman56 and 5 others like this


John O'Hara
Dec 04 2019 07:03 PM



Don't take the lack of comments as disinterest.  I don't know about others, but I've been socked in by solid clouds for over two weeks.  Of course, living 50 miles from Lake Erie doesn't help!  We seldom see the sun or stars from late October through April.


    • PhilH likes this
Dec 05 2019 03:00 PM

These objects are definitely on my To See List.  Moonlight and clouds, followed by deep cold next week will probably delay the observations...

    • PhilH likes this
Dave Mitsky
Dec 06 2019 09:57 PM

I know that I've observed NGC 1 but it was quite a few years ago and I can't remember whether I also saw NGC 2.

    • Jon Isaacs and PhilH like this

I might give this a shot, either this new moon, or the next. (This is a busy month) I love looking for NGC galaxies with my 10"

    • PhilH likes this

I know that I've observed NGC 1 but it was quite a few years ago and I can't remember whether I also saw NGC 2.




I'm quite sure I've seen them but I have no record of it.   It like close galaxy pairs and I'm hoping to see them tonight.  


Last night I was fighting the moon and the sky at my normally ~21.1-21.5 site was 19.6 just after moonrise and slowly deteriorated.  Still, I was able to see NGC 16 at mag 12.0 less that 1/2 degree away.


Tonight I should have 10 minutes of full darkness, probably at least 30 minutes of maybe 20.5 and darker, I've got the star hop down pat so I think I've got a good shot at it. I'm using the 16 inch, 10 minutes of dark skies is not enough to bring out the 22 inch.


I have tomorrow night and Sunday night.  After that, it's back to San Diego to get ready to drive to the Missoula, Montana area for Christmas..  


So wish me luck. fingerscrossed.gif


And I want to thank Phil. This is my kind of challenge. As soon as I saw it, I was excited. 



    • John O'Hara likes this

Sorry, I haven't read the article, but I did observe these 2 galaxies a couple months ago through a friend's 18" Dob from a place about 30 miles northwest of Austin--not really a dark sky spot but transparency was good, minimizing the city's glow, and the galaxies were nearly overhead. This is paraphrased from notes that my friend took of the session: "NGC 1 was challenging at lower power (100x), but became much more obvious at 230X.  Using Sky Safari 6 on an iPad Pro, we were able to track down NGC 2--much more elusive than NGC 1.  Nearby were NGC 16 (fairly bright and obvious) and NGC 22 (much fainter but still easier than NGC 2, although 22 is listed in SS6 with a fainter magnitude)." 


  Tonight I should have 10 minutes of full darkness, probably at least 30 minutes of maybe 20.5 and darker, I've got the star hop down pat so I think I've got a good shot at it. I'm using the 16 inch, 10 minutes of dark skies is not enough to bring out the 22 inch.





I decided it was worth pulling out the 22 inch.  I was out early and was constantly monitoring the sky brightness with my SQM-L.  When I began, it was about 19.7 and was darkening as the dusk progressed.  In my location, the galaxies were at over 80 degrees elevation so the star field was rotating quite quickly.  It took me a while to get that all figured out.   


In any event, I picked the galaxies up at about 20.8 mpsas. NGC 1 was quite bright, I could just barely detect NGC 2, knowing where it was in relation to NGC1 was a big help.  The minimum sky brightness was about 21.14 mpsas and for the period it was greater than 21.0, both galaxies seemed quite bright, couldn't be missed.  NGC 2 seemed nearly as bright as NGC 1 but more diffuse.  Maybe it has a dimmer core.  


I took a moment off and hooked up with NGC 27, a magnitude 14.4 galaxy.  Before the end of Astronomical dusk, the sky began to brighten due to the moon nearing the horizon..  I watched them as the sky brightened.  I was able to detect them down about 20.3 mpsas second though again, NGC 1 was now much easier to see.  


So, it all worked out, mission accomplished and thanks again Phil.



    • PhilH likes this

Congrats to all who were able to nab these two galaxies, especially in the specified aperture range.  Not easy!


Anyone have any luck spotting NGC 7839?  If so, could you resolve it as two stars or did it appear "galactic?"

    • Jon Isaacs likes this

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