M90 is a spiral galaxy located in Virgo. It's a member of the Virgo Cluster and one of the largest and brightest spirals in the group. With an apparent magnitude of +9.6, it's visible through small scopes as a reasonably bright oval shaped patch of light. M90 appears bright in medium size telescopes but to spot the spiral structure requires a larger amateur scope.

The galaxy was one of eight galaxies, all Virgo members, discovered by Charles Messier on March 18, 1781. It's located about 60 Million light-years distant and is intrinsically large with an actual diameter of 165,000 light-years, more than the Andromeda Galaxy (M31). It's estimated to contain a trillion stars.

M90 is positioned close to the centre of the Virgo cluster and right at the Virgo-Coma Berenices constellation boundary. The centre of the cluster is located roughly halfway along a line connecting stars, Denebola (β Leo - mag. +2.1) and Vindemiatrix (ε Vir - mag. +2.8). In the same area of sky are M84, M86 and M87 with M90 positioned 1.5 degrees northeast of M87. The small elliptical galaxy M89 is 0.75 degrees southwest of M90 with M91 about a degree to the north-northwest of M90. Tenth magnitude spiral galaxy M88 is located 1.5 degrees northwest of M90.

The Virgo galaxies are best seen during the months of March, April and May.

M90 Spiral galaxy (Paul Koblas/Daniel Koblas/Adam Block/NOAO/AURA/NSF)

Finder Chart for M90 (also shown M49, M53, M58->M60, M64->M66, M84->M89, M91 and M98->M100)

Finder Chart for M90 (also shown M49, M53, M58->M60, M64->M66, M84->M89, M91 and M98->M100) - pdf format

M90 can be spotted with 7x50 or 10x50 binoculars but requires dark skies and excellent seeing conditions. It's easier to see with small scopes; an 80mm (3.1-inch) instrument reveals a reasonably bright oval shaped smudge of light but nothing much else. When viewed through a 200mm (8-inch) scope, M90 has a bright core surrounded by a streak of nebulosity that fades outwards from the centre. On dark nights, larger amateur scopes hint at more detail including the spiral arms. In total, M90 spans 9.5 x 4.4 arc minutes of apparent sky.

The galaxy is one of a few that appear blueshifted. This results from its large velocity within the Virgo Cluster, which means that it's currently moving towards us. Only one Messier galaxy is approaching us faster, M86. This is in contrast to most other galaxies which are redshifted and therefore receding from us.

M90 Data Table

Object TypeSpiral galaxy
Distance (kly)60000
Apparent Mag.9.6
RA (J2000)12h 36m 50s
DEC (J2000)13d 09m 45s
Apparent Size (arc mins)9.5 x 4.4
Radius (light-years)82,500
Number of Stars1 Trillion
Notable FeatureVery large spiral galaxy belonging to the Virgo Cluster of galaxies

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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