Observing the Virgo Cluster of Galaxies
Locating the Virgo Cluster
Find Denebola (Beta Leonis), the tail star of Leo the Lion, Arcturus (Alpha
Bootis), and (if possible, e.g. from horizon view) Spica (Alpha
Virginis); use e.g.
for finding Leo and Arcturus from Ursa Major.
Between Denebola and Arctururs, shifted southward toward Spica, there is
2.8-magnitude Vindemiatrix (Epsilon Virginis). The Virgo Cluster is situated
almost exactly between Vindemiatrix and Denebola, little more than 10 degrees
south of the beautiful naked-eye
Coma (open) Star Cluster.
If you point your scope with a large field/low magnification/long focal
length eyepiece exactly between these two stars,
M84 and M86,
together with several NGC galaxies, should be readily visible.
M87 is a little south and 2 or 3 fields (about
2 degrees) east.
Finding and Identifying Messier's Virgo Cluster galaxies
There are, of course, a lot of ways to work through, starhop, identify and
observe the Messier galaxies in the Virgo cluster.
Tony Cecce, in the June issue of his
12 Month Tour of the Messier Catalog,
suggests to do almost everything right off the
M84-M86 pair, in three pathes:
Then you only have M49 and M61 left.
- M84,M86 -> M87 -> M89,M90 -> M91 -> M88
- M84,M86 -> M87 -> M89 -> M58 -> M59,M60
- M84,M86 -> M99 -> M98 -> M100 [-> M85] (last added by hf)
Robert Garfinkle, in his book Star Hopping,
suggests the following star hops:
A third route is given by the sequence in Don Machholz'
Messier Marathon Observer's Guide, also
proposed in our
Messier Marathon pages:
- From Denebola, move about 6 deg eastward to locate whittish mag 5.10 star
6 Comae, a main sequence star of spectral type A2V.
Edge-on spiral galaxy M98 should be visible in
the same low-power field to the north-west.
Face-on M99, the Coma Pinwheel, is located about
1 degree east-southeast of 6 Comae.
Two 5th to 6th mag stars east-northeast of 6 Comae point the way to the
magnificient spiral M100 - of which the amateur
with a small scope will see the bright central region and fainter surroundings,
perhaps with suggestions or hints of the spiral arms.
About 1.75 deg north of M100 is the double star 11 Comae (ADS 8521) of yellow
spectral type G8 III and mag 4.78, which leads to S0 galaxy
M85 1 deg north-east of it.
M88 and M91 are
found the easiest way from M99, as they have about the same declination;
they are about 4 deg east of M99 in the same low-power field, together with
NGC 4571 in the wide-field instrument.
- From Vindemiatrix, hop 1 deg north and 3.5 deg west to double star 34 Vir
(mag 6.1 and 9.3, separated 139.4 arc sec). About 1 deg southwest of it is
M60 with NGC 4647.
M59 is in the same wide-field eyepiece roughly
20' to the WNW, and M58 is just 1 deg from this
one to the NW. M89 is roughly 1 deg to the NNW,
and from this one it is about 0.75 deg north to
M90. 1 deg SW from M90 and 0.75 deg WNW of M89
is the famous bright M87, and another 1 deg NW
is the M84/M86
pair. 5 deg south and slightly west of M87 is
M49. About 3 deg SSW is double star 17 Vir
(mag 6.6 yellow primary and mag 9.3 orange secondary at 20 arcsec to the NE),
and a half deg south of this one is, finally, the nice face-on spiral
M61. This one, on the other hand, is almost
exactly 5 deg north and slightly east of Eta Virginis, Zaniah.
A fourth route is given by Kenneth Glyn Jones in his book,
Messier's Nebulae and Star Clusters, Appendix 2:
- From Denebola (Beta Leonis), go 0.3 deg N and 6.8 deg following (E) to
star 6 Comae. From here go 0.5 deg preceding (W) to find
- From M98 go 0.5 deg S, 1.2 deg following (E) to
M99. [It is near a mag 6 star]
- From M99 travel 1.0 deg following (E), 1.4 deg N to
M100. [2 mag-6 stars point to it from 6 Com]
- From M100 go 0.6 deg following (E), 2.4 deg N to
M85 and faint NGC 4394 (10' E)
- From M85 sweep 5.3 deg S to find M84
and M86 in one field, together with a number
of fainter NGC galaxies including NGC 4388; 15' NE of M86 is the interacting
pair NGC 4435/4438.
- From M86 go 0.6 deg S, 1.1 deg following (E) to
- From M87 go 0.2 deg N, 1.2 deg following (E) to
- M90 is 0.3 deg following (E), 0.7 deg N
- From M90 travel 1.2 deg preceding (W), 1.2 deg N to
- M91 is situated 0.1 deg N, 0.8 deg
following (E) of M88 - same low-power rich-field.
- From M91 sweep 0.6 deg following (E), 2.7 deg S to
M58 [situated east of and near a mag 6 star]
- From M58 go 0.2 deg S, 1.1 deg following (E) to
M59. In the same field should be
M60 (0.1 deg S, 0.4 deg E) with its fainter
companion NGC 4647.
- From M60 travel 3.4 deg preceding (W), 3.5 deg S to find
M49; from M49 go 2.0 deg preceding (W),
3.5 deg S to M61.
Steve Gottlieb has featured
"The Virgo Mainline" - Markarian's Chain
(also see our M87 and Markarian's Chain page)
- Start at 3rd mag Epsilon Virginis (Vindemiatrix). From this star, move 5 deg
W to pick up 5th mag Rho Virginis, with 6th mag 27 Virginis close to the NW.
- From Rho Virginis, move 1.5 deg N to pick M59
and M60 which should appear in the same L.P.
[low-power] field, lying nearly E-W.
- Form M59 move 1 deg W to M58.
If any of these three galaxies is too difficult to find, conditions are very
probably not good enough for finding any of the fainter objects.
- From M58, move slightly W and then 1 deg N to pick up
M89 and M90, lying
almost N-S and visible in the same L.P. field.
- From the spindle-shaped M90 now move 1 deg W and 1.5 deg N to
M88 which has two small [faint] stars close to
the south and quite destinctive. The once `missing'
M91 can now be found by moving 1 deg E and
slightly N from M88. This object is rather faint and its location should be
checked by depressing the telescope a little more than 1 deg S to reveal M90
again. Return to M88.
- From M88 move back to M89 and M90 and from the more southerly M89 move
slightly S and 1.25 deg W to M87 which is round
- From M87 move another 1.25 deg W and 0.5 deg N to
M84 and M86
which appear in the same L.P. field oriented approximately E-W.
- The next step is a longer one. From M84 move 20' W and 3 deg N to
- From M100, move 0.5 deg W and 2 deg N to pick up the 5th mag star 11 Comae
Berenices. From this star move 0.5 deg N and just over 1 deg E to
M85 which, being small, may require higher
magnification to see well.
- M85 is the most northerly Virgo Cluster Messier Object. Return to 11 Com,
and then move 3 deg S and 1.25 deg W to the 5th mag star, 6 Comae Berenices.
- From 6 Comae Berenices, M98 is little less than
1 deg due W and M99 a little less than 1 deg SE.
The former is very pale and may need averted vision to see at all; M99 is a
little brighter but also pale.
- Return to our starting point, Rho and 27 Virgines.
- From Rho Virgines, move 2.25 deg S and 3 deg W to
M49 which is bright and "pearly" and very easy
- From M49, move 3.5 deg S and 2 deg W to M61.
It is a little faint and pale and if the objects proves elusive it may be
located by examining the area midway between the two stars 16 Virginis
(5th mag) and 17 Virginis (6th mag).
Alternatively, M61 may be found from the starting point at Vindemiatrix
(Epsilon Virginis), by locating 3.5 mag Delta Virginis which is 7.5 deg S and
1.5 deg W. From this star, 5th mag 16 Virginis is about 9 deg W, and M61 is
about 1 deg N and 0.5 deg E.
Last Modification: June 11, 2000