Messier 74, nicknamed the Phantom Galaxy, is a grand design spiral galaxy located in the constellation Pisces. Messier 74 is a perfect example of a grand design spiral galaxy. It has two clearly defined spiral arms and its face-on orientation and large apparent size make it a frequent target for astronomers looking to study spiral arm structure. The spiral arms, which extend for about 1,000 light years, contain clusters of young blue stars and many starforming nebulae.
|Visible From Pacific Northwest||August to Early January|
|Best Time To Observe||October, November and December|
|Minimum Size Of Viewing Device||Large Binoculars|
|Object Type||Spiral Galaxy|
|Designations||Messier 74, M74, NGC 628, PGC 5974, UGC 1149, 2E 0134.0+1531, IRAS 01340+1532, 2MASX J01364177+1547004, MCG+03-05-011, TC 18, UZC J013641.7+154659, Z 0134.0+1532, Z 460-14|
|Right Ascension||01h 36m 41.8s|
|Number Of Stars||100 billion|
|Apparent dimensions||10′.5 x 9′.5|
|Object Radius||47,500 light years|
|Distance From Earth||30 million light years|
Messier 74 was discovered by the French astronomer Pierre Méchain in late September of 1780. Méchain reported the discovery to his colleague and friend Charles Messier, who subsequently added it to his catalogue of deep sky objects on October 18, 1780 after determining its position.
Interestingly, Herschel catalogued the galaxy as a cluster. He noted, “Globular cluster; faint; very large; round; very gradually, then pretty suddenly much brighter to the middle; partially resolved.“
Messier 74 was one of the 14 “spiral or curvilinear nebulae” discovered by Lord Rosse before 1850.
Locating M74 In The Sky
It can be found 1.5 degrees east-northeast of Alpherg, Eta Piscium, the brightest star in Pisces. The star is only of magnitude 3.6, but can be located using the bright stars Hamal and Sheratan in the neighbouring constellation Aries. An imaginary line drawn from Hamal to Sheratan and extended for about 7.5 degrees leads directly to Alpherg. M74 is located 1.5 degrees from the star back in the direction of Sheratan.
Messier 74 can be seen in large binoculars, but it only appears as a faint patch of light. Small telescopes will reveal the galaxy’s bright nucleus surrounded by a hazy halo, while larger telescopes will show the galaxy’s spiral arms. The galaxy looks similar to the Triangulum Galaxy (M33), but has a more defined nucleus. The best time of year to observe M74 is during the months of October, November and December.
The Phantom Galaxy looks very similar in shape and in colors to Messier 101 and has similar appearance to M33, just rounder and smaller. It has been suggested those interested in imaging this object with a medium size to large telescope, spend a minimum of 3-4 hours to capture Datta to gain the most amount of data, assuming capture from a Bortle 4 or 5 zone. Astrobin and forums such as cloudy nights will also provide a great way for astrophotographers to customize the timing and details to their own build based on previous astrophotographer experiences.
Sources And Further Reading
Descriptions of all of Messier Objects can be found here.