ε Virginis

Epsilon Virginis is Vindemiatrix (Grape Gatherer) and the star represents Virgo's right hand, extended from the maiden's body: binoculars. The heliacal rising of the star (that is, after it came out of the Sun's glare, early in the morning sky) signaled that the time had come to gather the grapes.

Epsilon is a yellow giant, with a radius of ten or twelve times that of the Sun's.

I call epsilon Virginis ‘The Door to the Chamber of Galaxies’: the region between epsilon and omicron is chock-a-block with galaxies of all sorts, including fourteen Messier objects (if one also counts those in nearby Coma Berenices) although it would take a highly detailed star chart to find them all, and a rather large scope as well.

There is one Messier object in the same field of view: M60, along with its fainter companion, NGC 4647.
     M60 is one of the brightest and largest of the elliptical galaxies, with a mass of about a trillion Suns, or–as Burnham points out–five time the mass of the entire Milky Way.
     Very easy to find with binoculars, with an apparent magnitude of 8.8, telescopes may reveal a yellowish colouring. A neighbouring galaxy, NGC 4647, is 2.5' to the northwest; it will take a large telescope to reveal any features.

Between epsilon and M60, roughly centred in your field of vision, is the wide binary Struve 1689: 7.1, 9.1; 222º, 29.9".


Move a little more than half a binocular field northwest, keeping 34 Virginis in sight: binoculars. Suddenly you have half a dozen Messier galaxies in your field of view. These galaxies, part of the Virgo Cluster, are about 42 million light years away.

The observer will realise that any of these galaxies will have a poor showing in binoculars. Serious students of deep sky objects will have more sophisticated material; this is more of a beginner's approach to finding the galaxies.

Of these six M87 stands out, toward the western edge of your field of view, fairly well seen in binoculars with an apparent magnitude of 8.6. M87 is one of the most massive galaxies known, with a mass of about 800 billion Suns. At the centre is a black hole with a mass of three billion Suns. The outer edges are dotted with globular star clusters, perhaps several thousand in all.

The remaining four galaxies are:
     M58-a compact spiral seen face on, 9.6m; binocular will show hazy glow.
     M59-impossible with binoculars, 9.6m; telescopes bring out much detail.
     M89-a large elliptical galaxy, difficult in binoculars, 9.7m; telescopes bring out bright core.
     M90-a spiral galaxy with a bright core, 9.5m; binocular-accessible; one of largest galaxies with a mass of 80 million Suns.

Half a field northwest, you have crossed the border into Coma Berenices, but as this is the most convenient approach to these galaxies, we'll cover them here.

Seven new galaxies are in this binocular view. Note the outlier 6 Com, which may help you centre your glasses. A brief note on each is sufficient for our purposes.
     M84-An ecliptical galaxy, companion to M86; 9.1m, telescopes show a bright core.
     M86-Brighter than M84 (8.9m) but no less difficult. The whole area here is peppered with tiny distant galaxies.
     M88-Difficult to find in open sky, 9.6m, but a good object for large binoculars; telescopes show some detail, arms and the nucleus.
     M91-One of the most difficult to find (10.1m), one reason being Messier apparently plotted the object wrongly; NGC 4548 may have been the intended galaxy. In any event, the larger the telescope the better.
     M99-Excellent conditions required for this elusive object; 9.9m; telescopes reveal nucleus and two spiral arms.
     M100-Even more difficult than M99, 9.3m; large scopes needed for details.

Click on omicron to continue.

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