NGC 5866 -- Lenticular Galaxy in Draco
Messier 102 Substitution
NGC 5866 is a reasonably bright Lenticular Galaxy in the constellation of the Dragon. I
became very familiar with this galaxy when I was living in Texas in the 1980s. The local
astronomy club would participate in the Messier Marathon each year during March around
the time of the New Moon. The goal was to find and see all 110 Messier Objects in a
single night. It was theoretically possible, but the best I ever did was 108 out of the 110
objects. Messier’s object 102 was at the time a bit of a mystery and no one really knew
what it really represented. When we conducted our March Marathon, we used NGC 5866
as Messier’s missing 102. So, each spring NGC 5866 would come to life in my eyepiece
just long enough to check it off my list before moving on to the next Messier Object.
NGC 5866 deserves better respect than I give it during the Messier marathons. The galaxy
has a bright core that makes finding it easy, but with a small telescope the subtle disk can
only be teased out with some effort at the eyepiece. Given that its light took 50 million years
to reach my eyepiece, spending a few minutes observing it is easily justified.
It is now believed that Messier 102 is Messier 101. Messier accidentally recorded the same
object twice. But to me NGC 5866 still makes a great substitute for Messier 102 whether running
an all night marathon or just taking one’s time enjoying the Dragon galaxy’s distant glow.