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. this chart 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.

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: A fourth route is given by Kenneth Glyn Jones in his book, Messier's Nebulae and Star Clusters, Appendix 2:
  • Steve Gottlieb has featured "The Virgo Mainline" - Markarian's Chain (also see our M87 and Markarian's Chain page)

    Hartmut Frommert
    Christine Kronberg

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    Last Modification: June 11, 2000