Updated: May 22
The Phantom Galaxy was discovered in 1780 by Pierre Méchain, who then gave its location to Charles Messier to include in his catalog.
The Phantom Galaxy is a beautiful spiral galaxy that is relatively similar to the Milky Way in size. In photographs, Messier 74 has some similarities with Messier 33 (The Triangulum galaxy). Both have very bright stars in their spiral arms.
The Phantom galaxy can be very difficult to observe, as it has the 2nd lowest surface brightness of all the ones in the Messier catalog, hence its name: The Phantom. We were able to spot it using our eyepiece, but this is thanks to our Bortle 3 desert sky.
We spent 3 hours and a half capturing photons to get this image. We actually had trouble with our equipment for two nights in a row trying to photograph it, so in reality, with all the driving, setting up, etc, it took more than 21 hours of our time...
You can see how we captured this target in Episode 11 of Galactic Hunter!
Camera: Canon 7D Mk II
Telescope: 8" Astrograph f/3.9
Mount: Equatorial Motorized Mount
Guiding: Autoguider - 50mm Guide Scope
Total Exposure Time: 3 hours and 30 minutes
Exposure Time per frame: 3 minutes
70 lights - 15 Darks - 15 Bias
How to Find the Phantom Galaxy
The Phantom lies about 32 million light years away from our home, in the constellation of Pisces, right next to the constellation of the flying horse Pegasus. For reference, Messier 104 (The Sombrero galaxy) is located just as far, although it is actually pretty close for galaxies.
To find Messier 74, first locate the brightest star in Pisces, Kullat Nunu. Your target will be 1.5 degrees northeast from that star.
Discovered in 1780
Was initially cataloged as a cluster by John Herschel
Part of the M74 group of 5 to 7 galaxies
See the different types of galaxies on our galaxy gallery page.
Single Shot and Processing of Messier 74
On our first night trying to capture M74, in September, the temperature in the Nevada desert was still very hot. We are talking 110+ degrees. Our camera, the Canon 7D Mark II, is a really great DSLR camera, but it is not cooled in any way. All 70 of our shots from that night went to the trash, as the final image, even processed as best as we could, was simply... horrific. See for yourself:
Single shot. Click the arrow to see the final image with 3.5 hours of data.
We then went back for a second night, but our equipment decided not to cooperate. During the third night, the temperature after dark was really cold, and our single shot was much better.
Single shot of M74, in medium/cold temperatures.
A crop on our final image reveals a bright core, with beautiful, long, and defined spiral arms. Faint gases are visible a little around the galaxy.
A galaxy similar to Messier 74 is the Triagulum Galaxy - learn more about it here.
Galactic Hunter Episode #11 - The Phantom Galaxy
The Phantom Galaxy was the focus of the 11th episode of Galactic Hunter!
Discover how we captured this target below.
Although Messier 74 is not one of the most impressive targets visually, it certainly is a great target to photograph. We hope you will be able to capture it in one night, instead of going through three nights like we did!
Antoine & Dalia Grelin
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