NGC 891 is one of the most striking examples of a spiral galaxy seen exactly edge-on. This ghostly spindle of light is located about midway between Gamma Andromedae and the open star cluster M34 in Perseus.

NGC 891
NGC 891 spans about one hundred thousand light years and is seen almost exactly edge-on from our perspective. Subaru Telescope/Michael Joner/David Laney/Robert Gendler

Although NGC 891 is a generous 14′ by 3′, it suffers from low surface brightness. On nights with poor seeing, NGC 891 is a wavering apparition suspended in a bowl of glittering stars. However, if your sky is dark and steady the big galaxy takes magnification surprisingly well.

NGC 891’s signature feature is a prominent equatorial dust lane. The dark band clearly bisects the galaxy in 8-inch telescopes at 150x. Using averted vision note the mottled extensions of the galaxy, and even a central bulge of sorts.

NGC 891 has an optical diameter of about one hundred thousand light years and the dust lane has a width of about 1.5 thousand light years. Professional telescopic studies indicate that the galaxy is not perfectly edge-on, but instead the eastern side is inclined just slightly toward us and the western side just slightly away from us (the rotation axis is inclined at an angle of 89° from our line-of-sight; 90° would be exactly edge-on).

Finder map – field width 15°, stars to magnitude +8.