Observer’s Challenge – Three Galaxies in Virgo

Unfortunately as we head towards New Moon this week, it is also the season where the sky does not really dark at night from UK latitudes. It also the time when Virgo is well placed for observation, so despite the difficulties this challenge is for three galaxies in Virgo, three of the brightest and two of which are rather less observed.

M49 is an elliptical galaxy and the brightest (mag. 8.4) of the Virgo Cluster of galaxies. It lies about 60,000 kly from us. There is a bright fore-ground star that should not be confused with a super-nova, but if you see two… If you are also capturing Arp Galaxies – here is a bonus, as it is listed as Arp 134.

Sketch of M49 by Alan Snook

M90 is a nice face-on spiral galaxy. At magnitude 9.5 it is rather fainter than M49. Interestingly the spiral arms of M90 have no star formation taking place, only in the core regions. So unlike many spiral, the arms seem to be ‘fossilised’. It seems to be heading our way at 585 km/sec and is likely escaping the Virgo Cluster. M90 is also an Arp – Arp 76. Though you would need to observe the 14th mag. companion IC 3583 to really claim it.

Sketch of M90 by Dale Holt

M104 lies in the south of the constellation and was the first object for which the term “Deep Sky Wonder” was coined. It lies rather closer to us at only 50,000 kly. At magnitude 8.0 it should not be too hard to pick up. It is named the Sombrero Galaxy because of its appearance; the bright central bulge and the thick dark dust lane makes the galaxy appear like the Mexican hat.

Image of M104 by Graham Roberts

This chart below (from Stellarium) shows the positions of the galaxies in Virgo.

If you manage to observe or image these objects please post your observing report or images on your Members Page. 

The British Astronomical Association supports amateur astronomers around the UK and the rest of the world. Find out more about the BAA or join us.