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.

M85 Lenticular galaxy by the Hubble Space Telescope (NASA, ESA, and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA))

Finder Chart for M85 (also shown M49, M53, M58->M60, M64->M66, M84, M86->M91 and M98->M100)

Finder Chart for M85 (also shown M49, M53, M58->M60, M64->M66, M84, M86->M91 and M98->M100) - pdf format

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 TypeLenticular galaxy (or Elliptical galaxy)
ClassificationS0 (or E1)
ConstellationComa Berenices
Distance (kly)60000
Apparent Mag.9.5
RA (J2000)12h 25m 24s
DEC (J2000)18d 11m 27s
Apparent Size (arc mins)7.1 x 5.5
Radius (light-years)62,500
Number of Stars400 Billion

Sky Highlights - March 2017

Comet 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak now visible with binoculars as it heads towards perihelion

Mercury heading towards greatest elongation east

Minor Planet
Vesta now visible with binoculars and small telescopes.

The Planets
This Month's Guide

Algol Minima
Algol eclipse dates and times for March 2017

Northern Hemisphere
West:- Venus (mag. -4.8 to -4.1 - first half of month), Mars (mag. +1.3 to +1.5), Uranus (mag. +5.9), Mercury (mag. -1.5 to -0.4 - second half of month)
Southeast:- Jupiter (mag. -2.3 to -2.5)
Southwest:- Jupiter
Southeast:- Saturn (mag. +0.5)

Southern Hemisphere
West:- Venus (first half of month), Mars, Uranus
North:- Jupiter
East:- Saturn
West:- Jupiter
Northeast:- Saturn
East:- Neptune (mag. +8.0 - second half of month)

Deep Sky
Naked eye / binoculars:-
Melotte 111 - Mel 111 - The Coma Star Cluster (Open Cluster)
Messier 44 - M44 - The Praesepe (Open Cluster)

Messier 67 - M67 - Open Cluster
Messier 51 - M51 - The Whirlpool Galaxy (Spiral Galaxy)
Messier 97 - M97 - The Owl Nebula (Planetary Nebula)
Messier 101 - M101 - The Pinwheel Galaxy (Spiral Galaxy)
Messier 65 – M65 – Spiral Galaxy
Messier 66 - M66 - Intermediate Spiral Galaxy
Messier 95 - M95 - Barred Spiral Galaxy
Messier 96 - M96 - Intermediate Spiral Galaxy
NGC 4244 - Spiral Galaxy
NGC 4565 - Needle Galaxy - Spiral Galaxy

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