How to find Bodes Galaxy (M81), the Cigar Galaxy (M82) and NGC 3077

In this article we are going to discuss how to find Messier 81 (M81), Messier 82 (M82) also known as Bode's Galaxy and the Cigar Galaxy and NGC 3077. This bright group of galaxies is called the M81 Group, and is best seen in the spring skies of the northern hemisphere.

You might wonder if the M81 Group an actual group of galaxies or just appear to be a group due to a line-of-sight effect? Well, these galaxies are actually gravitationally linked galaxies so much so that they are sharing hydrogen between each other.

How to find the M81 Group?

Click to enlarge M81 Group star chart

To find this group of galaxies first find a distinctive constellation of Ursa Major and then locate the Big Dipper or Plough asterism inside it. Then measure the distance between the stars Phecda and Dubhe using your outstretched hand as a reference.

Then move across along the same angle as between these two stars using the reference distance. Then head slightly up and you should be in the vicinity of the M81 group of galaxies.

To locate these galaxies, it would be best to use a low power eyepiece. Doing so allows you to see both galaxies at the same time.

M81 should appear as a dim patch of light through binoculars and M82 should appear as a bar of light.

You will probably spot the Cigar Galaxy first because even though it is not as bright as Bode's Galaxy its unique shape and concentrated structure make it pop out.

There is also another galaxy you can spot NGC 3077, this is a fuzzy looking galaxy at the bottom left corner of the M81 galaxy, to see it you also must have sharp eyes because while it is quite bright it is also quite small.

Do not worry if you did not see it as you do more astronomy you will become better at picking out the fuzzies from background stars, one good technique to try is; averted vision. This is when you look slightly away from the galaxy. This allows the more sensitive cones in the side of your eye to pick up the faint light of NGC 3077.

What makes these galaxies special?

So now let us look at these galaxies in turn and put them into context. M81 or Bode's Galaxy is a brilliant spiral galaxy approximately eleven point eight million light-years from Earth. It is a great example of a grand design galaxy; this is a type of spiral galaxy with prominent and well-defined spiral arms.

What is so significant about the M82 galaxy is that the bar in the centre of the galaxy is about five times more luminous than our Milky Way galaxy and about 100 times more luminous than the Milky Way's centre!

NGC 3077 is the final galaxy we are going to concentrate on this is a strange galaxy for two reasons first it shows wispy edges and scattered dust clouds like M82 probably because of the gravitational interaction with the larger neighbours M81 and M82. Second as with M82 the interaction between the galaxies is causing the NGC 3077 galaxy to have an active nucleus with both galaxies undergoing an exceptional rate of star formation.

If you would like to see some other galaxies I can highly recommend the Andromeda and Triangulum Galaxies. If you want to see some great images of these galaxies and what they look like through a telescope please watch the episode below.

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