M85 is a lenticular galaxy or an elliptical galaxy located in Coma Berenices that's a member of the Virgo cluster of galaxies. At magnitude +9.5 and covering 7.1 x 5.5 arc minutes it's similar in brightness and size to another Virgo cluster galaxy, M84. Spotting M85 with 7x50 or 10x50 binoculars is challenging due to its faintness, requiring good transparency and dark skies. A small 80mm (3.1-inch) scope shows a featureless ball of fuzz with a slightly brighter core. The view through amateur scopes in no way reflects the true nature of this distant enormous galaxy. It's located 60 million light years away making it one of the more remote objects in the Messier catalogue. The actual diameter of M85 is 125,000 light-years and is estimated to contain 400 billion stars. Long classified as a lenticular galaxy of type S0, recent observations of M85 have suggested that it could be an elliptical galaxy of type E1.
Pierre Méchain discovered M85 on March 4, 1781. He reported it to his friend Charles Messier who subsequently catalogued it on March 18, 1781. On the same night Messier discovered another seven galaxies, all of them Virgo Cluster members and also re-discovered bright globular cluster M92.
The main crux of the Virgo cluster lies about halfway along an imaginary line connecting Denebola (β Leo - mag. +2.1) and Vindemiatrix (ε Vir - mag. +2.8), where most of the galaxies can be found. However, M85 is located at the very northern edge of the Virgo cluster, some 6 degrees northwest of the group centre and one degree northeast of star 11 Com (mag. +4.7).
It's best seen during the months of March, April and May.
Through a medium sized 150mm (6-inch) or 200mm (8-inch) scope, M85 appears as a bright, round, diffuse ball of light with a much brighter central core. However, even larger scopes don't show much more detail. Also visible in the same field of view is neighbouring barred spiral galaxy NGC 4392. This galaxy is positioned 8 arc minutes to the east and is currently interacting with M85.
Supernova (SN 1960R) was observed in M85, reaching magnitude +11.7 in December 1960. But supernova hunters be warned, there's a foreground star south-southeast of the galaxy nucleus that often tricks many observers!
M85 Data Table
|Object Type||Lenticular galaxy (or Elliptical galaxy)|
|Classification||S0 (or E1)|
|RA (J2000)||12h 25m 24s|
|DEC (J2000)||18d 11m 27s|
|Apparent Size (arc mins)||7.1 x 5.5|
|Number of Stars||400 Billion|