One of the finest examples of a lenticular galaxy is just hanging on in the western sky after sunset. Also called the Spindle Galaxy, NGC 3115 is an edge-on lenticular galaxy that presents one the most beautiful views in the heavens. Like all lenticular galaxies, the Spindle looks lie a spiral galaxy without the dust and star-forming regions. And it holds a super-massive black hole at its centre…
The Spindle Galaxy is one of the most under-observed in the night sky. Why? Possibly because it lies in a nearly barren patch of sky just south of the celestial equator in the obscure constellation Sextans. There are many galaxies here, but few bright stars to guide the way. The Spindle is among the brightest and easy to find.
You can see the Spindle Galaxy for yourself about 20 degrees due south of Regulus in the constellation Leo. The best way to find it is to centre the star Alphard (in Hydra) in your finder scope, and move 9 degrees east and one degree north. The galaxy should be visible at low magnification in dark sky. Once you find it, use higher magnification to darken the background sky and bring out more detail. In a small telescope, it presents a lovely needle-shaped image. You’ll need dark sky for the best view.
********** Highly Recommended **********
Discover how to take great astro-photos with your digital camera. Capture images of the crescent moon and planets at sunset, or the star clouds of Sagittarius rising over the trees above the southeastern horizon No experience required. Click here to learn more…
The Spindle Galaxy lies at the same declination as the Orion Nebula, so it’s visible in the northern and southern sky. The galaxy is about 22 million light years distant.
NGC 3115 is a small galaxy, with a mass of just 7 billion suns. The massive black hole at the centre holds 2 billion suns worth of mass. But it’s stopped growing. And like most lenticular galaxies, as well as ellipticals, NGC 3115 holds little dust and gas to form new stars.