By: "Tony Cecce, Corning, NY"

Twelve Month Tour of the Messier Catalog
June Messier Objects

This month we attack the heart of the Virgo cluster of galaxies. We will be hunting 13 galaxies all within less than 100 square degrees of sky. The brightest of these galaxies, M87, is only 8.6 in total magnitude so this will be a telescope only month. Plan on searching for small faint fuzzies, dark skies are a must.

Successfully navigating the Virgo cluster is the biggest challenge in the Messier Catalogue, and is affectionately known as "Heartbreak Ridge" to marathoners. What makes the Virgo cluster such a challenge is the closeness of the Messier objects to each other, and the large number of other galaxies in this region. It is easy to become lost among the galaxies, and not be able to tell which one you are looking at. Here are several tips that can be of use as you navigate your way through the cluster.

- Get a good chart of the region that shows not only the M objects, but also the brighter NGC galaxies. You should also have pictures of the objects in the region to help in confirmation of a sighting.

- Use low power while searching. When you find an object you can switch to higher powers to see more detail.

- Avoid large aperature scopes. Small telescopes 6"-8" in size make finding the M-objects easier. Large scopes will show many of the other faint galaxies and may help you become disoriented. Same is true for sky darkness. Minimal light pollution will also help to "filter out" the dimmer galaxies from the brighter Messier objects. In my moderately light polluted back yard with an 8" scope I can find the Messier objects easily, but can barely see the other galaxies. Of course to really enjoy and get the most out of any galaxy you want the largest scope and darkest skies you can find.

- Plot your paths through the cluster, including a "home base". Your home base should be an easily recognizable M-object or field in the cluster. This will be the starting point for any excursions you plan, and a place to return to should you become lost. I use M84,M86 as my home base. I can find this pair of galaxies easily by pointing my accurately aligned telrad on the midpoint of a straight line from Denebola (beta leonis) to Vindemiatrix (epsilon virginis). This matched pair of small fuzzy balls will both be within a low power field of view every time I do this. I've heard of other people using M87 as their home reference because of it's brightness.

The paths I like to use are M84,M86 -> M87 -> M89,M90 -> M91 -> M88
                                |----> M87 -> M89 -> M58 -> M59,M60
                                |----> M99 -> M98 -> M100

- As you move from an identified object in search of a new object keep track of how far you have travelled. At low power the most you should have to move between objects is 3 or 4 fields of view. If you go much farther than that go back to your last object or all the way back to home.

- Have patience and keep trying. Getting to know this area of sky is very rewarding. Under dark skies and with a large scope I can easily get seven galaxies into the same field of view. An amazing sight to behold.

- Remember, you are looking for light that left it's source about 70 million years ago. Most of these objects at low power are not much more than dim, fuzzy, out of focus looking stars. Allow your eyes to become fully dark adapted and take your time looking at each field. When done with this challenge be sure to swing over to M3 or M13 to let your photon starved retinas feast on a real meal.

[M84 Image] M84x, [M86 Image] M86
A pair of small fuzzy balls with bright, almost stellar cores. Both easily fit into the same low power field of view. M86 is slightly brighter and more oval than round M84.

[M87 Image] M87 - M87 - Another round fuzzy ball with a bright core. Slightly brighter than both M84 and M86.

[M89 Image] M89x, [M90 Image] M90
Both of these galaxies fit into the same low power field of view. M89 is another round fuzzy ball similar to M84, while M90 appears as an oval patch of light larger than M89. M90 has a bright central region.

[M91 Image] M91 - A faint, slightly irregular oval hazy patch of light.

[M88 Image] M88 - A small oval shaped fuzzy patch with a bright stellar core. Similar in size and shape to M90. Can fit into the same field of view as M91.

[M58 Image] M58 - A slightly oval shaped fuzzy patch of light with a bright central region.

[M59 Image] M59, [M60 Image] M60
M59 and M60 can both easily fit into the same field of view. M59 is a small, hazy oval patch, not all that easy to see. M60 is another fuzzy oval patch of light, larger and brighter than M59.

[M99 Image] M99 - A bright round fuzzy patch of light.

[M98 Image] M98 - This galaxy appears as a bright pencil like streak of light.

[M100 Image] M100 - A round hazy glow of light, bright in the center but gradually fading towards the edge.

Last Month - M49, M51, M61, M63, M64, M85, M94, M101, M102, M104
Next Month - M3, M4, M5, M53, M68, M80, M83
                                                A. J. Cecce, rev. 1.0, 1995