How to find the Leo Triplet Galaxies (Easiest Galaxy Cluster in the Night Sky)

In this article, I will cover how to find the Leo Triplet cluster of galaxies and what makes them interesting. There are many great galaxies in the night sky such as the Triangulum galaxy but with a cluster of galaxies you get much more to explore.

Click to enlarge the Leo Triplet star chart
To find the Leo Triplet, you need to start at the easily recognizable Leo constellation, which looks like a lion. Once you have found Leo, head down to the star on the hip of the imaginary lion and from there head down to a trail almost directly down of three bright stars at the northern most bright star.

Pan across until you see another bright star not very far away now this is going to be a very important star. From here you can find all the galaxies of the Leo Triplet e.g. M65, M66, and NGC 3628. As such, I try to keep the reference star as found in my finderscope.

Then when I am looking at one of the galaxies, I can pan back to the star that I am looking at before moving on to the next galaxy I am interested in.

There is a lot to cover when discussing the Leo Triplet, so I recommend covering each galaxy one by one, starting from the brightest and then moving on to the fainter ones. 

So the brightest galaxy is M66 it is also faintly visible through 7x50 binoculars, from a dark site with a ten-inch telescope you can start to see the spiral structure. M66 is a notable galaxy due to its large dust lanes and star forming region and it has been the location of several novae.

M65 is the second brightest galaxy due to its high surface brightness. It can be seen through a pair of binoculars in a dark location, but an eight-inch telescope is required to see any detail in this galaxy.

NGC 3628 is a slightly brighter galaxy with a slightly higher surface brightness than M65, making it easier to spot the third member of the triplet. With a six-inch telescope, the bar of NGC 3628 can be seen, earning it the nickname hamburger galaxy. 

Oddly enough, NGC 3628 was the only part of the Leo Triplet not discovered by Charles Messier, despite being so close to M65 and M66 and so bright. Instead, William Herschel found it in 1784. 

The galaxies also are physically close enough to interact gravitationally with one another. This has caused the Hamburger Galaxy to be drawn out with young open star clusters and star burst regions in the galaxies tidal tail. Violent encounters with the galaxy’s large neighbours have also affected M66 causing asymmetrical spiral arms although M65 seems least effected.

For views of what these galaxies should look like through a telescope as well as long exposure images of all these galaxies please watch the episode below.


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