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The Virgo Cluster
May 22, 2020
The Virgo Cluster is a cluster of galaxies that appear between the constellations Virgo and Coma Berenices. It actually consists of over a thousand galaxies, but most of them are far too dim for even the biggest amateur telescopes. Some of them, however, can be seen with a modest backyard telescope if you have dark enough skies.
Now, most of the time I only recommend objects you can see with binoculars or toy telescopes--things most people have. But galaxies require a little more aperture. You’ll need at least a four inch reflector to see these targets, but of course, the bigger the better.
The brightest galaxies in the Virgo Cluster are the Messier objects. There are sixteen of them--named for 18th century French astronomer Charles Messier’s catalog of what he thought were stationary comet-like objects, but we now know they’re things like galaxies, globular clusters, open clusters, and nebulae. The four brightest are M49, M60, M87, also known as Virgo A, and M86, the brightest galaxy in Markarian’s Chain, which is a curved line of eight galaxies named after 20th century Armenian astronomer Benjamin Markarian, who discovered that all of the galaxies in the chain are moving in the same direction.
If you see even one of these galaxies, you’ll be looking at light that’s taken over 50 million years to arrive.