Best galaxies for Northern Hemisphere beginners

Galaxies are often the toughest objects for new amateur astronomers to observe. New observers often have telescopes with modest apertures and often have much light pollution to deal with. Even experienced observers with modest apertures and significant light pollution have trouble with galaxies. Other people have put together lists like this, but in my case I have used more objective criteria for the list. Namely, my own original derivations of the apparent brightness distribution of the cores of galaxies. The point being that only experienced observers with large telescopes and dark skies see the full extent of a galaxy. Others will only see the central regions of a galaxy and thus brightnesses derived for the entire galaxy do not necessarily indicate how easy it will be to observe in less than perfect circumstances.

To be technical for a moment, this table contains all galaxies on the Messier list and the Herschel 400 list in which the inner 2 arcminutes of the galaxy has an integrated magnitude brighter than 10.0. (The combined Messier and Herschel 400 lists contain roughly the best 500 deep-sky objects for people in the middle latitudes of the northern hemisphere; half of these objects are galaxies.) The total magnitude of the galaxy may be several magnitudes brighter than the core region, but it is the core that is important for visibility under less than ideal conditions. If you are a total beginner, you might not want to go there yet, but you can check out the gory details of my research if you like.

I have not field-tested all the objects on this list under difficult observing circumstances! However, I can tell you that I have seen all the Messier galaxies in a 60mm refractor from fairly dark skies. I can personally vouch for the relative ease with which I saw most of the Messier objects on this list with that scope under skies in which I could see stars down to magnitude 5.5-6.0 with the unaided eye using averted vision. I can also report that none of the ones I found most difficult are on this list. Still, some of these may be tricky with small apertures and/or poor sky conditions. Also keep in mind that sky conditions can vary a lot, and that can make a big difference in whether or not you see a galaxy.

Note that there are several galaxies on this list that were not in Messier's catalog. Also, the criterion I used to make this list might not lead to a "perfect" list of the most easily visible galaxies. Still, the list should provide most of the easiest galaxies, and will steer you away from some of the very tricky Messier objects like M33 and M101 until you are more experienced and/or observe from darker skies. There are two galaxies on this list that are rather far south, and will be much more difficult for observers in the far northern Lower 48 and Canada. One last note: there are quite a few galaxies that just miss making this list; you can always check out my full Messier and H400 galaxy list at some point for those and for more details on the 22 galaxies listed on this page.

The columns in this table are defined as follows. "NGC" is the NGC number. "M" is the Messier number. "RA(2000)" and "Dec(2000)" are the Right Ascension and Declination of the galaxy in year 2000 coordinates. "V(1.0)" and "V(2.0)" are the visual brightnesses in magnitudes for the innermost 1 arcminute and 2 arcminutes of the galaxy. The "V(1.0)" value is intended for relatively high magnifications around 100x, and "V(2.0)" is probably better for lower magnifications around 50x. (The whole point of using a particular magnification on a diffuse object is to make the visible part of it big enough that your eye sees it.) Don't be afraid to experiment with relatively high magnifications on galaxies.

NGC M RA(2000) Dec(2000) V(1.0) V(2.0) Notes
221 32 00:42:42 40:51:55 9.1 8.7 Satellite of M31
224 31 00:42:44 41:16:08 8.0 7.0 Andromeda Galaxy
00:47:33 -25:17:18 10.8 9.7 Caution: quite far south
1068 77 02:42:40 -00:00:48 9.8 9.4
3031 81 09:55:34 69:04:00 9.2 8.5 Paired with M82
3034 82 09:55:54 69:40:57 10.2 9.4 Paired with M81
10:05:14 -07:43:07 9.9 9.5
3379 105 10:47:50 12:34:57 10.3 9.9
11:05:49 -00:02:15 10.5 9.8
3627 66 11:20:15 12:59:29 10.4 9.8
4258 106 12:18:58 47:18:16 10.6 9.8
4374 84 12:25:04 12:53:15 10.4 9.9
4472 49 12:29:47 07:59:58 10.1 9.5
4486 87 12:30:50 12:23:24 10.3 9.7
4594 104 12:39:59 -11:37:22 9.7 9.1
4649 60 12:43:40 -11:32:58 10.2 9.7
12:49:02 -08:39:52 10.3 9.9
4736 94 12:50:54 41:07:10 9.1 8.7
4826 64 12:56:44 21:41:05 10.3 9.5
5055 63 13:15:49 42:02:06 10.7 9.9
5194/5 51 13:29:53 47:11:48 10.5 9.8 Main component; look for 2nd core
5236 83 13:37:18 -29:52:04 10.0 9.4 Caution: quite far south

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File last modified: 17 December 2004

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