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Arizona stargazers will be able to view M81, M82 galaxies in March skies


With dark and clear skies later in the week, this is a great time to get out those binoculars and view some of the most amazing objects in our Arizona skies!

High in the northern sky around 10 p.m. MST, you will find the constellation of Ursa Major, the great bear, or Big Dipper.

This is an easy group of stars to view with the naked eye and one that holds some real celestial treasures!

Follow the two bright stars which make up the top end of the dipper. These are known by many as the “pointers,” two stars which point your way to the North Star, Polaris. The stars are known by the names Dubhe and Merak.

Just a short distance to the upper left of these two stars, are one of the best examples of objects which we refer to as galaxies. Galaxies are systems of billions of stars which rotate around a common axis. Our own Milky Way, is a separate galaxy, with well over 200 billion stars.

With a pair of binoculars and clear and dark skies, you can actually view two most amazing galaxies which are at the distance of some 12 million light years from your eyes.

The objects are known as the galaxies, M81 and M82, from the classic Messier list of celestial objects.

Charles Messier was a French astronomer who cataloged a series of well over 100 objects which might be mistaken as a comet. The Messier list contains not only galaxies, but star clusters, globular clusters and some nebulae.

The two objects, M81 and M82, were actually discovered by Johann Bode on the night of Dec. 31, 1774.

These are two rather faint objects which are at the incredible distance of 12 million light years from Earth.

M81 is a rather large spiral type galaxy, while M82 is a very strange type of irregular or cigar-shaped object.

If you follow the detailed star chart here, you will be able to track down these two amazing objects in a pair or binoculars.

M81 looks like this. M82 looks like this.

Many have stated that the most distant object that you can view with the naked eye, is the great Andromeda Galaxy at 2,4 million light years, but there are some who have stated that under the best of dark skies, M81 may actually be visible with the naked eye and beat that record.

The limit of naked eye visibility is near what astronomers call +6 magnitude.

From the light pollution of the major cities, you are lucky if you can see many of the constellations in the night sky.

But, there is hope!

For help with that, I suggest that you open the link at the bottom of this column for the current sky map of all the major constellations and details on what great things are happening in our March 2019 skies.

To print your own monthly star chart, click here.

To view satellites/dates/times of passage, click here.

Listen to the Dr. Sky Show on KTAR News 92.3 FM every Saturday morning at 3 a.m.