the Hidden Treasures catalog, because, as I recount in Deep-Sky Companions: The Messier Objects, M74 remained elusive to me under bright city skies with a telescope;not until I moved to a dark-sky site did I finally see the galaxy ...in binoculars.
Under a dark sky, the galaxy is more than an amorphous haze, if you give it time. Sky & Telescope's late Deep-Sky Wonders columnist Walter Scott Houston, called it a "gem." Interestingly, he had not heard of anyone seeing detailed structure in it with telescopes any smaller than 12 inches. I found his comment surprising because even at 23 x, if I relax and wait for moments of pure clarity, I can see a dim pip at the core of the galaxy and some mottling that suggests a broken ring.
But the key to success in seeing detail in this visually challenging galaxy is to observe it in layers, using different magnifications. I agree, you will not see much in this galaxy with a quick look. You have to want to study it, and that requires time. I began my journey with 72 x, which seemed to show best the galaxy's sharp, starlike core. I also got suggestions of spiral structure close to the central lens, curving to the southwest. Once you suspect some detail, take a rest, breath in some fresh air, then return to the telescope. Now use your averted vision and see if the "amorphous" haze does not start to splinter into all manner of enhancements across the galaxy's face. Don't worry about trying to pinpoint any of them. Just let them pop in and out of view.
When I put in 101 x, a dim arm arcing to the southwest immediately snapped into view. Then, after a few minutes, this arm split into two distinct and parallel features. With averted vision and 168 x, a few distinct stars or knots could be seen superimposed
on these arms. (Houston notes that his best view of this galaxy was with 150 x.) Finally, I zoomed out, using41 x (a 22-mm Nagler and a 1.8x Barlow) to survey the area surrounding the galaxy's inner lens. That's when I got my best suggestion of a fainter spiral arm beyond the two already mentioned.
When John Herschel observed NGC 1232 from the Cape of Good Hope with his 18-inch f/13 speculum telescope, he noticed something peculiar: "first," he said, the galaxy was "very gradually then pretty suddenly brighter towards the middle." That was with the view with his right eye. Then he switched to his left eye: "With the left eye I see it mottled. (N.B. This is no doubt a distant globular cluster.)" Steve Coe had a similar impression through his 13-inch f/5.6 reflector, saying "Going to 165 x makes the arms appear very mottled..."He also spotted two H-II regions.
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