Welcome back to Messier Monday! Today, we continue in our homage to our dear pal, Tammy Plotner, by taking a look at the supergiant elliptical galaxy referred to as Messier 87 (aka. Virgo A)!

Throughout the 18 th century, renowned French astronomer Charles Messier saw the existence of a number of “ambiguous items” while surveying the night sky. Initially misinterpreting these items for comets, he started to brochure them so that others would not make the exact same error. Today, the resulting list (referred to as the Messier Brochure) consists of over 100 items and is among the most prominent brochures of Deep Area Objects.

Among these items is the supergiant galaxy Messier 87, likewise referred to as the Virgo A (or the Cigarette smoking Weapon) galaxies. Found at a range of about 53.5 million light years from Earth, this galaxy is house to a number of trillion stars, 15,000 globular clusters, and a supermassive great void. It is among the brightest galaxies in the northern part of the Virgo Cluster, 2nd just to Messier 49, and the dominant member of that group.


Extending itself throughout area for a range of 120,000 light years, Messier 87 holds not just a lot more stars and mass than our own Galaxy galaxy, however it likewise ideas the scales at severe luminosity, with an outright magnitude of about -22 Among the factors is possibly since M87 consists of the most recognized globular clusters of any galaxy.

While our Galaxy has an excellent variety of about 150 to 200 globulars, M87 has an exceptional system of a number of thousands! As Judith G. Cohen (et al) of the Palomar Observatory suggested in a 1997 research study:

” A subset of 150 globular clusters (GCs) in M87 has actually been picked for abundance and age decisions from the 1997 sample of Cohen & Ryzhov. This has actually been done exclusively on the basis of the signal-to-noise ratios of the spectra. Indices that determine the strength of the greatest spectral functions were identified for the M87 GCs and from brand-new information for twelve galactic GCs. Integrating the brand-new and existing information for the stellar GCs and comparing the (U-R) colors and the line indices provided qualitative signs for the ages and abundances of the M87 GC system. Quantitative outcomes, which verify and extend the qualitative ones, were gotten by using the Worthey designs for the incorporated light of outstanding systems of a single age, adjusted by observations of stellar globular clusters, to deduce abundances and ages for the items in our sample.”

Then along came W. Baade and R. Minkowski in 1954 who made another discovery about this Messier item– it was an excellent radio source … so excellent that it buried its next-door neighbors and happened referred to as Virgo A. Some 3 years later on a weaker radio halo was discovered by J.E. Baldwin and F.G. Smith of Cambridge. However that’s not all. M87 was likewise determined as a strong source of X-rays, and sits near the center of a hot, X-ray discharging cloud extending far over the Virgo cluster. As M. Beilicke (et al) stated in a 2003 research study:

” The huge radio galaxy M87, well studied from radio to X-ray energies, lies in the Virgo cluster of galaxies at a range of 16 Mpc (redshift z= 0.00436). M87 has actually been observed with the HEGRA stereoscopic system of 5 Cherenkov telescopes in the years 1998 and 1999 for more than 80 h. An excess of TeV?- rays on the 4? level has actually been discovered in the information representing an essential flux (E >730 GeV) of 3.3% of the Crab nebula flux. The HEGRA detection– if verified– would make M87 the very first TeV?- ray discharging AGN observed with the imaging climatic Cherenkov method not coming from the BL Lac class.”

However let’s not stop there, since M87 is likewise very popular for the jet of product extending from a super-massive great void at its core. While the jet has actually been understood about for many years, just recently it has actually revealed some activity. Said Juan P. Madrid of the Area Telescope Science Institute in a 2009 research study:

” A knot along the M87 jet situated 085 from the nucleus of the galaxy, has actually experienced remarkable and unforeseen flaring activity given that early2000 We provide analysis of Hubble Area Telescope near-ultraviolet (NUV) imaging of the M87 jet from 1999 Might to 2006 December that exposes that the NUV strength of HST-1 has actually increased 90 times over its quiescent level and beats the core of the galaxy. The NUV light curve that we obtain is simultaneous with the light curves obtained in other wavebands. The connection of X-ray and NUV light curves throughout the HST-1 flare verifies the synchrotron origin of the X-ray emission in the M87 jet. The outburst observed in HST-1 is at chances with the typical meaning of active stellar nucleus irregularity generally connected to blazars and coming from close distance to the main great void. In truth, the M87 jet is not lined up with our line of vision and HST-1 lies at one million Schwarzchild radii from the supermassive great void in the core of the galaxy.”

History of Observations:

M87 was found by Charles Messier on the night of March 18,1781 It should have been a fantastic night for Chuck, since he likewise cataloged 8 other ambiguous items 7 of them in the exact same area and all member galaxies of the Virgo Cluster. In his notes, he composed:

” Nebula without star, in Virgo, listed below and extremely near a star of 8th magnitude, the star having the exact same Right Ascension as the nebula, and its Declination was 13 d 42 ′ 21 ″ north. This nebula appears at the exact same luminosity as the 2 nebulae Nos. 84 and 86.”

William Herschel would likewise observe M87, cataloging fainter galaxies along the method. While he was a little less than passionate on its look, he did note it was “big, brighter, much brighter to the middle, however lessening extremely slowly in brightness.” Later on historical astronomers would likewise follow with practically similar descriptions till Curtis took a look through the huge eye of the Lick Observatory Crossley Reflector linked to a photographic plate:

” Extremely brilliant; the sharp nucleus reveals well in 5m direct exposure. The brighter main part has to do with 0.5 ′ in size, and the overall size has to do with 2 ′; almost round. No spiral structure is noticeable. A curious straight ray depends on a space in the nebulosity in p.a. 20 deg, obviously gotten in touch with the nucleus by a thin line of matter. The ray is brightest at its inner end, which is 11 ″ from the nucleus. 20 s.n.”

Finding Messier 87:

Begin with the M84/ M86 pairing found by intending practically precisely focused in between Beta Leonis (Denebola) and Epsilon Virginis (Vindemiatrix). While the above map reveals rather some range in between them, M87 is in fact a lot closer to physically discover. Put simply our starhop set in the eyepiece and gradually move east/southeast about a typical low power eyepiece field.

If you are utilizing a big aperture telescope, you’ll see lots of little faint galaxies pass, however the next you’ll experience because instructions is brilliant and big enough to quickly recognize M87 You can’t miss its brilliant, egg-shape. For smaller sized telescopes? Unwind. The majority of the Virgo Galaxy field isn’t noticeable in your aperture, so follow the exact same instructions till you reach your target!

The place of Messier 87 in the Virgo constellation. Credit: IAU and Sky & Telescope publication (Roger Sinnott & Rick Fienberg)

We may not have photographic plate eyes, however we can certainly enjoy this fantastic galaxy!

Things Call: Messier 87
Alternative Classifications: M87, NGC 4486, Virgo A
Things Type: Type E1 Elliptical Galaxy
Constellation: Virgo
Right Ascension: 12: 30.8 (h: m)
Declination: +12: 24 (deg: m)
Range: 60000 (kly)
Visual Brightness: 8.6 (mag)
Evident Measurement: 7.0 (arc minutes)

We have actually composed lots of fascinating short articles about Messier Objects and globular clusters here at Universe Today. Here’s Tammy Plotner’s Intro to the Messier Items, M1– The Crab Nebula, Observing Spotlight– Whatever Occurred to Messier 71?, and David Dickison’s short articles on the 2013 and 2014 Messier Marathons.

Be to sure to take a look at our total Messier Brochure And for more details, take a look at the SEDS Messier Database