NGC 278 – Galaxy in Cassiopeia – November 2020 Observers Challenge: #142

Compiled by:

Roger Ivester, North Carolina 


Sue French, New York

November 2020

Report #142

NGC 278, Galaxy in Cassiopeia

Sharing Observations and Bringing Amateur Astronomers Together


The purpose of the Observer’s Challenge is to encourage the pursuit of visual observing. It’s open to everyone who’s interested, and if you’re able to contribute notes, and/or drawings, we’ll be happy to include them in our monthly summary. Visual astronomy depends on what’s seen through the eyepiece. Not only does it satisfy an innate curiosity, but it allows the visual observer to discover the beauty and the wonderment of the night sky. Before photography, all observations depended on what astronomers saw in the eyepiece, and how they recorded their observations. This was done through notes and drawings, and that’s the tradition we’re stressing in the Observer’s Challenge. And for folks with an interest in astrophotography, your digital images and notes are just as welcome. The hope is that you’ll read through these reports and become inspired to take more time at the eyepiece, study each object, and look for those subtle details that you might never have noticed before.

This month’s target

NGC 278 is a nearly face-on galaxy shining at a visual V(V_T) magnitude of 10.8. It lies about 39 million light-years away from us. At that distance, the galaxy’s angular size on the sky implies a true diameter of about 23 thousand light-years in visible light. The inner regions of NGC 278 show signs of intense star formation that may be the result of a merger with a smaller galaxy in its recent past. A darkling shroud enwraps NGC 278, perhaps dust from the cannibalized galaxy driven outward by stellar winds.

William Herschel discovered NGC 278 with his large 20-foot reflector (18.7-inch aperture) in 1786. His handwritten log of the discovery describes this galaxy as: very bright, round, very gradually much brighter in the middle, about 1½′ in diameter, about 1′ south of a pretty considerable star.

Roger Ivester: Observer from North Carolina

Galaxy NGC 278 in Cassiopeia when using a 10-inch reflector at a magnification of 104x, is presented as small, mostly round and fairly bright. When increasing the magnification to 207x, a very subtle brightening was noted in the central region, with some irregularity, and a very faint halo. 

Mario Motta: Observer from Massachusetts

Image via 32-inch with ASI6200 camera, a small object (2 arc minutes). 90 minutes total integration time, taken October 15th 2020.

Glenn Chaple: Observer from Massachusetts

The mere mention of the constellation Cassiopeia to a deep sky enthusiast conjures up visions of open star clusters like M52, M103, and the “ET Cluster” NGC 457. But if you move southward towards Cassiopeia’s border with Andromeda, you’ll come across a handful of galaxies that includes NGC 278 – this month’s Observer’s Challenge.

This nearly face-on spiral was discovered by William Herschel on the evening of December 11, 1786. It bears the Herschel Catalog designation H159 (his 159th Class I [Bright Nebulae] object). Its calculated distance of 38 million light years translates to a true diameter of 26,000 light years.

I observed NGC 278 on the evening of September 20, 2020, using a 10-inch f/5 reflector. At 39x, it showed itself as a hazy “star.” A boost to 208X revealed a ghostly circular patch with no discernible concentration. NGC 278 was faitly visible in my 4.5-inch f/7.9 reflector. At 90X, it looked more like a planetary nebula than a galaxy.

The coordinates for NGC 278 are RA 0h 52m 04.3s, Dec +4733’ 02”. Star-hoppers can find it by tracing a path from 4th magnitude omicron (ο) Cassiopeiae (see finder charts below).

*The purpose of the Observer’s Challenge is to encourage the pursuit of visual observing.  It is open to everyone who is interested. If you’d like to contribute notes, drawings, or photographs, we’ll be happy to include them in our monthly summary. Submit your observing notes, sketches, and/or images to Roger Ivester ( To find out more about the Observer’s Challenge or access past reports, log on to

Sue French: Observer from New York

Through my 10-inch reflector at 43×, NGC 278 appears very small but easy to see, while at 68× it’s enclosed in a faint, round fringe. My sketch was made when viewing the galaxy at 166×. It spanned about 1.2′, hosted a very small nucleus, and offered a suggestion of spiral arms within the brighter region.

Rony De Laet: Observer from Belgium

NGC 278 is a conspicuous small patch at low power (60x). When I changed to medium power (200x), I realized that the galaxy’s bright core could handle much more magnification. I found 400x the best choice for my sky’s brightness. The nucleus is just short of being stellar in my scope. The galaxy’s core remains bright but compact, even at 400x. The object’s circular halo is the most interesting feature. I can detect an elongated ‘gap’ in the halo on each side of the galaxy’s core. The one N of the core is the most obvious of the two. This gives the object a bar-shaped centre plus the appearance of some spiral structure outside the gaps. The contrast is too low to clearly see the orientation of the spirals. I’m convinced that a better night might do the trick.

Site : Bekkevoort, Belgium
Date : November 12, 2021
Time : around 2.45UT
Telescope: Taurus 16-inch
EP: 4.5mm (400x)
Filter : none

Seeing : 4/5
Transp. : 3/5
Sky brightness : 19.3 magnitudes per square arc second near zenith (SQM reading).
Nelm: 5.3
Sketch Orientation: N up, W right.
Digital sketch made with Corel Paint Shop Pro, based on a raw pencil sketch.

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