NGC 404 -- Lenticular Galaxy in Andromeda
At magnitude 2.05, Mirach is the brightest star in the constellation Andromeda. This Giant
Sun (type M0 III) resides 197 light years from Earth. Just 6 arcminutes northwest of Mirach
is one of the nearest known Lenticular Galaxies, NGC 404. This small galaxy is 8,000,000
light years from Earth.
The glare from Mirach can make seeing this magnitude 9.8 galaxy a challenge. Under a dark
sky the soft faint spherical glow of NGC 404 appears as a faint foggy spot next to the brilliant
Mirach. Thus, its name Mirach’s Ghost.
From my suburban backyard, Mirach’s Ghost is a far greater challenge than if I was under a
truly dark sky. With the 6-inch refractor, at the house, the ghost can be seen. The trick is
increasing the magnification to darken the background sky. NGC 404 does well with
magnification. A little patience at the eyepiece also helps.
In the Annals of the Deep Sky, Volume 1, by Kanipe and Webb, presents several
lines-of-thought that suggest that NGC 404 “… is merely the core of a larger system, perhaps
the product of a galactic merger, or mergers, in the not-too-distant past”.
Mirach’s Ghost’s location is easy to find but the galaxy itself is hard to see. If trying to find it
in the skies above suburbia, make sure your optics are clean, up the magnification, and wait
for a moonless night. If luck is with you, the ghost will appear.