NGC 4800 -- Spiral Galaxy in Canes Venatici
More Than It Seems
The Virgo Supercluster of Galaxies extends well north into the constellation
Canis Venatici (The Hunting Dogs). The majority of the constellation’s
galaxies sweep to the northeast, but a few large galaxies are scattered
throughout Canis Venatici. If you look at a good star atlas and locate the
largest void of galaxies in the constellation, you will see NGC 4800 at its
center. This small galaxy measures only 1.6 by 1.1 arcminutes and remains
unremarkable in both large and small amateur telescopes. At the far edges
of the void, away from NGC 4800 are some of the most impressive Messier
galaxies in the sky. Five degrees to the south of the tiny galaxy, M94 (Croc’s
Eye Galaxy) looms in the sky. Six degrees to the east M106, with its
quasar-like Seyfert nucleus, shines. And six degrees to the west M51 (The
Whirlpool Galaxy) can be found interacting with its companion galaxy.
One might wonder why any amateur astronomer would bother looking at the
small smudge of NGC 4800 when M94, M51, or M106 are pulling at one’s
telescope like magnets. To be honest, few amateurs will likely ever take the
time to see NGC 4800 and those that do will unlikely spend much time with it.
For me it took the Hubble Space Telescope’s image of NGC 4800 to drive
home that this galaxy is a magnificent assortment of billions of individual stars
with impressive expanses of gas and dust. The Hubble’s image shows that
NGC 4800, is not just a small insignificant smudge, but a true marvel of nature.
NGC 4800 was my last drawing of the night. It had been a long but enjoyable
observing session and I was tired. My eye did not see much through the
eyepiece, but in my mind and heart NGC 4800 was, and forever will be, glorious.