Copyright 2007 Starry Mirror and Glen Ward

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BRIDGEPORT, WV (S-M) A familiar friend is now high in the late evening sky - M33, the Triangulum galaxy.


Under exceptionally good conditions, M33 may be seen to the naked eye, but no mention of it is made in historical records before the invention of the telescope. The first definite discovery of the object came in 1764, when Charles Messier catalouged it as M33. Two decades later, William Herschel studied the galaxy, and noted four smaller objects within it. Today, these smaller objects are known as star-forming H II regions, and they continue to be studied by scientists using the premier instruments of our day, including the Hubble Space Telescope.

NGC604, A star forming H II region in the Triangulum Galaxy. (NASA)

At about 3 milion light years distant, M33 is probably the most distant object which can be glimpsed by the naked eye. Through a small telescope, the galaxy looks like a diffuse patch about the same size as the full moon. Many observers have a difficult time finding the object, owing to its low surface brightness and larger than expected size. Through larger telescopes, some mottling may become apparent, but observers must remember to keep the magnification low or risk not seeing the object at all.

Here at the S-M, we find it useful to bear in mind what we are seeing when observing an object like M33 - billions of stars so far away it has taken their light millions of years to reach us. Who knows, what appears as a dim blur in the telescope could contain many worlds like our own, perhaps with their own inhabitants staring back at our own galaxy, wondering what is out there.  - GW