Island Universes - Starhopping through the Virgo/Coma Realm of Galaxies

Jane Houston

We ended our most recent observing session on a chilly Fremont Peak January morning by observing galaxies in Leo. Leo already? That means it's almost Virgo time! For those of you planning to complete your Messier objects by tackling Virgo, here is a helpful hop. The most important tool is to know your field of view. The rest is easy!

From Spica (67 A Virginis mag 0.97) go 21 degrees north to mag 2.83 47 E Virginis or Vindemiatrix -- enjoy the bright yellow-white spectrum G8 yellow giant now -- we are about to enter the dark and majestic world of our local group neighbor.

First a few stops on the way: a little arrow shaped asterism aligns the observer toward the west northwest, the direction we will travel tonight. Just follow this arrow. This is an easy starguide, easy to get your alignment, and to get back on track when lost.

Struve 1689 a nice yellow (mag 7.1) and blue double (mag 9.4) is our first treasure in this hunt. It's 1-1/2 degrees NW of Vindemiatrix. Get used to your field of view on this hop! 29 arcsec separates these two.

NGC 4762 and 4754 are a fantastic first deep sky find, and can be seen in the same field of view with Struve 1689. 62 at mag10.3 is a dainty edge-on spiral and mag 10.6, 54 is round galaxy with a bright and tight nucleus. NGC 4694 is faint and longish galaxy mag 11.4

Half a hop away is M60 (NGC 4649 at mag 8.8) and NGC 4647(mag 12.03), M59 (NGC 4621 mag 9.79) and 4638 -- all 4 in the same field of view. NGC 4606? I don't think so. Maybe? Wishful seeing? Well I tried! Your turn!

1 degree NW from M59 is M58 (NGC 4579, mag 9.78 ) -- a nice barred spiral glowing in the dark.

1/2 degree SW from M58 are the interacting galaxies called the Siamese Twins, NGC 4567 and 4568. At 10.8 and 11.3 magnitude, these dim large puffs are apparently attached. Yes, connected at the arm -- the spiral arm that is.

M89 (NGC 4552 mag 9.81) is 1-1/2 degrees N NW of the twins. That's 2 hops for me. An elliptical with an intense core.

M90 (NGC 4569 mag 9.48) and IC 3583 -- an oval spiral with a small dim mag 13.6 irregular companion.

Between M90 and M87 are a lot of objects. Time for a Messier break anyway!

Back down to M58. First NGC 4564, the Siamese twins again, NGC 4528 (a star - looks like), 4503 and 4452, 4429 and 4440.

Now back to M90 for the hop to M87, 1 degree SW from M90. Off we go to M87.

M87 (NGC 4486 mag 9.56) -- A radio and X-ray emission source. What you see is not all you get! This is the center of the Virgo Cluster of Galaxies. There are many globular clusters within M87, as many as 4,000!

Companions to M87 -- NGC 4486B, 4476, 4478 and 4486A. All in the same field of view arranged in a mag 10 to 13 semi-circle.

1 degree NW of M87are elliptical twins M86 (NGC 4406 mag 8.9) and M84 (NGC 4374 mag 9.1). We are now entering the home stretch, galactically speaking.

On the way up to the next target, which will be M88 are a fantastic series of pairs of objects. These are also known as the Markarian Chain of Galaxies. You might not see them all, but follow the chain to M88. NGC 4402 is first. Then mag 10.8 NGC 4435 and mag 10.2 4438 -- Copeland's eyes at 4.3 arcmin separation. IC 3393 is next. Then mag 10.2 NGC 4458 and 4461 at mag 11.0. Then 4473 was pretty and bright at mag 10.2 -- a trio with mag 10.4 NGC 4477 and mag 11.0 4479. Then NGC 4447 and NGC 4446. NGC 4459 looks like a planetary to me at mag 10.4. Fuzzy and round next to an 8th mag star. A trio with dimmer NGC 4474 , and NGC 4468 which was a blurry diffuse speck of light. IC 3442 & 3432 are next. See HB Atlas chart E10.

M88 (NGC 4501) with its large elongated spiral is a welcome sight after the dimlits. Mag 9.6 is bright at this point.

M91 (NGC 4548 at mag 10.2)and 5671 are the last in my hop this-a-way. Next is the "back-door" entry to the realm.

Off to 6 Coma to try Messier's 98, 99 and 100 that-away.

Appetizers included Melotte 111, Arcturus to 42 A Comae Berenices. To mag 7.5 M53 (NGC 5024) and NGC 5053, first seen by Herschel. To 35 Coma, a nice tight double. One 3/4 degree hop from 35 Coma to M64. And M3 (NGC 5272, mag 6 globular) while I'm in the neighborhood! And the North Galactic Pole, 1/2 degree from 31 Coma. Between 31 and 43 Coma is the Coma Berenices Galaxy cluster. I see plenty of dim starry glows -- you can too when you look up there!

30 Coma is a nice double. NGC 4725 is a 2 degree hop South -- a nice face-on Mag 9 barred spiral. Three degrees N NW takes you to NGC 4565 Berenices Hair Pin, mag 9.6. This is one of my favorite edge-on galaxies, with a wide and prominent dust lane and lots and lots of mottled texture! NGC 4631 is another gorgeous edge-on galaxy with a little companion not too far away in Canes Venatici..

Hop hop hop and then over to Denebola, and on to 6 Coma...

M 98 (NGC 4192) is easy at mag 10.1, in the same field as 6 Coma. A nice tight nucleus surrounding an elongated shape.

M 99 (NGC 4254, mag 9.9) is one degree to the E SE. Like M33 in shape. A face-on spiral.

M 100 (NGC 4321 mag 9.3). Hop up from 6 Coma. A beaut! The largest spiral in Virgo and easy to see. Heck that wasn't so hard! And it sure was fun!

Jane Houston; last updated: 1999 Jan 18 Prev Next