NGC 3521 -- Spiral Galaxy in Leo
Leo’s Southern Beauty
Deep in the southeast spur of the Lion, about as far from the familiar stars of the constellation
as one can get and still be in Leo, is the memorable spiral galaxy NGC 3521. I would argue
that this galaxy is equal to, or superior to, the Messier galaxies found in Leo. If you have not
worked your way through the Herschel 400 list, then there is a good chance you have not
observed this galaxy. How can it not have a common name? How about “Leo’s Southern
The single short-coming of NGC 3521 is that it is so far from any bright star that it becomes a
long star-hop [Hint – don’t start your star-hop from one of Leo’s stars, but start from one of
Virgo’s most upper western brighter stars]. Of course, those with a Goto-System on their
telescope-mounts this will not be an issue. Even if you do star-hop, it is worth your time to visit
this galaxy – it is a visual treat.
In the 6-inch refractor from my suburban backyard the galaxy shines easily in the eyepiece. It
has a distinct, almost star-like core, with slightly brighter lateral-expansions that to me appear
somewhat knotted. The outer spiral arms are subtle, and their edges slowly dissolve into the
blackness of the surrounding night-sky. If you can’t tell by now – I really like NGC 3521.