A favorite deep-sky object captured

Posted by David Eicher
on Wednesday, June 22, 2011

I have lots and lots of favorite deep-sky objects. But among them, I hold a special place in my heart for a rather ordinary galaxy called NGC 4319 in Draco. It’s an “average Joe” NGC object in that it’s a barred spiral that glows at magnitude 12.8 and spans 3.0’ by 2.3’.

Photo credit: David J. Eicher
So what‘s the big deal? Well, starting in the late 1970s, the galaxy was at the center of an enormous controversy over the validity of distances in the universe that were derived by redshifts. It turns out that a faint quasar, Markarian 205, lies close to the galaxy, and a number of famous astronomers at the time, including Halton Arp and Jack Sulentic, believed they had imaged a “bridge” of light between the galaxy and the quasar.

So what? Well, by the measured redshifts, the galaxy lies 92 million miles (148 million kilometers) away and the quasar some 1 billion light-years distant, about 11 times farther away. Well, long story short, redshifts do work as distance indicators and the controversy was much ado about nothing. But seeing this interesting pair in the eyepiece is fun and always reminds me of this old, fiery debate.

The accompanying sketch shows the galaxy as I drew it some years ago with a 17.5-inch f/4.5 reflector at 222x. The quasar glows faintly at magnitude 14.5 and in the drawing appears like a “star” just left of the galaxy’s left edge.

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