Antennae Galaxies (NGC 4038/9)

NGC 4038/9
NGC 4038/9: Antennangalaxien in Corvus; 400 mm Keller Hypergraph f=3200 mm; SBIG STL-11000M/C2 + AO-L; L 39×10 min; R 5×5 min; G 18×5 min; B 14×5 min; -25 °C; -25 °C; Astrofarm Tivoli, Namibia; © 15.-17. Juni 2015 Hansjörg Wälchli [46]


These two galaxies were discovered on 7 February 1785 by William Herschel using his 18.7 inch reflecting telescope. He listed them with single entry IV 28 and noted: «Pretty bright, large, opening with a branch, or two nebulae very faintly joined. The southern is smallest.» [463] John Herschel listed two entries. Notes for h 1052: «Very large, round, very gradually brighter in the middle; the chief nebula of a fine double nebula. The other is 2' south. They run together.» Notes for h 1053: «The northern of the double nebula. It is the smaller and fainter of the two.» [466] In 1888 Dreyer added the two nebulae as NGC 4038 and NGC 4039 in his «New General Catalogue». [313]

Physical Properties

The galaxy pair NGC 4038 and NGC 4039 are two colliding galaxies. The two bright central regions merge into two elliptical clumps that appear glued together on their eastern side. From there, two long, curved filaments extend, which reach far out into space. The more northerly can be traced for about five minutes of arc, the more southerly for more than ten. These two filaments resemble the long feelers of a beetle, hence the second nickname Antennae.

The two filaments emit strong radio radiation, which was discovered in 1957. The well-known astronomer Fritz Zwicky showed that the tidal forces of two colliding galaxies stimulate new star formation. Indeed, a nebulous region has been spotted at the end of NGC 4039's southern filament, which appears to be a young protogalaxy. Recently formed massive stars excite the surrounding gas from which they were formed to glow.

The remaining, relatively undisturbed regions of the two galaxies (Fig. 2 below) show only subtle color differences, suggesting that the two were galaxies before their collision of the type S0 and not spiral galaxies. S0 galaxies are disc-shaped, relatively gas-poor galaxies whose color is slightly yellower than that of the spiral galaxies. This could explain why star formation occurs mainly in one of the two galaxies - where the gas is.

NGC 4038/9
NGC 4038/9: Detail of the two core regions with the 4m AAT; © 1991 David Malin [156]

In the central regions of the two colliding galaxies, young star clusters were found with the help of the (then still uncorrected) Hubble Space Telescope, which should not be older than 10 million years. It is not yet clear whether they are open or globular clusters, but their mean radius of about 60 light-years is comparable to that of typical globular clusters in the Milky Way. Most form dense groups of about a dozen in the large H II region in which they were formed. [4, 112, 116]

According to LEDA [134], the two galaxies are moving away from the center of the local group at a speed of about 1400 km/s, which at a Hubble constant of 75 km/s/Mpc is one distance of about 60 million light years. NGC 4038's spin axis is tilted at about 65° to our viewing direction, and NGC 4039's at about 71°.

Revised+Historic NGC/IC Version 22/9, © 2022 Dr. Wolfgang Steinicke [277]
Name RA Dec Type bMag vMag B-V SB Dim PA z D(z) MD Dreyer Description Identification, Remarks
NGC 4038 12 01 52.8 -18 51 52 Gx (SBm) 10.9 10.3 0.6 12.1 3.4 × 1.7 94 0.005477 23.13 20.880 pB, cL, R, vgbM WH IV 28.1; h 1052; GC 2670; ESO 572-47; MCG -3-31-14; UGCA 264; Arp 244; VV 245; Antennae
NGC 4039 12 01 53.8 -18 53 08 Gx (SBm) 10.9 10.3 0.6 12.2 3.3 × 1.7 55 0.005474 23.12 20.880 pF, pL WH IV 28.2; h 1053; GC 2671; ESO 572-48; MCG -3-31-15; UGCA 265; Arp 244; VV 245; Antennae

How to find NGC 4038/9

West of the diamond of the constellation Corvus, about one degree below halfway from Gienah (γ Corvi , 2.6mag) to ζ Crateris (4.9mag), lies the colliding galaxy pair NGC 4038/9. Since the two galaxies are quite faint, it is best to use an eyepiece with medium magnification.

Finder Chart Antennae Galaxies (NGC 4038/9)
Antennae Galaxies (NGC 4038/9) in constellation Corvus. Charts created using SkySafari 6 Pro and STScI Digitized Sky Survey. Limiting magnitudes: Constellation chart ~6.5 mag, DSS2 close-ups ~20 mag. [149, 160]

Visual Observation

NGC 4038/9
NGC 4038/9: Pencil drawing; 14" PWO-Dobson f/4.6, TV-Radian 8 mm, 200x, 0.3°, D: 6.3, air: medium-calm; Honegg 1460 m; © 24. 4. 2003, 00:30 Eduard von Bergen [192]

350 mm Aperture: Both cores appear very pronounced in the 14-incher. The northern galaxy NGC 4038 appears brighter and larger. The slightly fainter galactic core of NGC 4039 connects almost seamlessly to the south. In photos and with imagination on the sketch, the two galaxies are reminiscent of a fetus. The antennas on both galaxies are not visually accessible with amateur telescopes. — 14" PWO-Dobson, F:4.6 / TV-Radian 8mm, 200x, 0.3°, Eduard von Bergen[192]

400 mm Aperture: In the 21 mm Ethos eyepiece, the first thing you notice are two connected, misty ovals, which are reminiscent of a Prussian pastry. Even at higher magnification no more details were visible, let alone the antennas. The proximity of the horizon and the impending moonrise were not very helpful here. — 400 mm f/4.5 Taurus Dobsonian, Hasliberg, SQM 21.2, 3. 2. 2024, Bernd Nies

NGC 4038/39
NGC 4038/39: EAA, roughly represents visual impression; Slipstream 30" f/3.3 Dobson + MallinCam video camera; ca 3s; Hasliberg; © 14. 3. 2012 Pierre Schmid, Eduard von Bergen [29]

762 mm aperture: The visual impression can be roughly reproduced with a MallinCam video camera and an integration time of around three seconds. A tracking 30 inch f/3.3 SlipStream Dobsonian was used. The resulting image comes very close to visual vision with a 13 mm Tele Vue Ethos eyepiece. — 14. 3. 2012, Eduard von Bergen

Objects Within a Radius of 20°


  • [4] «Burnham's Celestial Handbook: An Observer's Guide to the Universe Beyond the Solar System» by Robert Burnham; Dover Publications, Inc.; Voume I: ISBN 0-486-23567-X; Volume II: ISBN 0-486-23568-8; Volume III: ISBN 0-486-23673-0;
  • [29] Astrobin: AstroEdy's Gallery;
  • [46] Astrofotografie mit Hansjörg Wälchli;
  • [112] Images: NGC 4038/39 by David Malin; S&T 12/94, p.42
  • [116] Young Star Clusters Found by HST in the 'Antennae'; S&T 6/95, p.12
  • [134] Lyon-Meudon Extragalactic Database (LEDA);
  • [149] SkySafari 6 Pro, Simulation Curriculum;
  • [156] «Precise radial velocities of giant stars. XII. Evidence against the proposed planet Aldebaran b» Katja Reichert, Sabine Reffert, Stephan Stock, Trifon Trifonov and Andreas Quirrenbach; A&A Volume 625, May 2019, Article Number A22; DOI:10.1051/0004-6361/201834028
  • [160] The STScI Digitized Sky Survey;
  • [192] Deep-Sky Guide; (2020-12-25)
  • [277] «Historische Deep-Sky Kataloge» von Dr. Wolfgang Steinicke; (2021-02-17)
  • [313] «A New General Catalogue of Nebulae and Clusters of Stars, being the Catalogue of the late Sir John F.W. Herschel, Bart., revised, corrected, and enlarged» Dreyer, J. L. E. (1888); Memoirs of the Royal Astronomical Society. 49: 1–237; Bibcode:1888MmRAS..49....1D
  • [463] «Catalogue of one thousand new nebulae and clusters of stars» William Herschel, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, 1 January 1786; DOI:10.1098/rstl.1786.0027
  • [466] «Observations of nebulæ and clusters of stars, made at Slough, with a twenty-feet reflector, between the years 1825 and 1833» John Frederick William Herschel, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, 1 January 1833, Pages: 359-505; DOI:10.1098/rstl.1833.0021