M100, mag. +9.5, is a spiral galaxy located in the southern part of constellation of Coma Berenices. It's one of the brightest members of the Virgo cluster of galaxies appearing almost face-on from our perspective. M100 exhibits prominent well-defined spiral arms and is therefore regarded as an example of a grand design spiral galaxy; other notable galaxies that fall into this category are M51, M74, M81 and M101.
M100 was discovered - along with M98 and M99 - by Pierre Méchain on March 15, 1781. Charles Messier subsequently observed all three objects and added them to his catalogue on April 13, 1781. He described the galaxy as faint without stars. It was not until 1850 that the spiral nature of M100 was first detected. Ango-Irish astronomer William Parsons the 3rd Earl of Rosse was the person to achieve this. He included M100 in a list of 14 spiral nebulae he had observed.
Finding the area of sky where M100 is positioned is not so difficult once one is familiar with the location of Virgo cluster. The centre of the cluster is located close to supergiant elliptical galaxy M87 about halfway along a line connecting Denebola (β Leo - mag. +2.1) with Vindemiatrix (ε Vir - mag. +2.8). M100 is positioned towards the northern section of the group, 2 degrees southeast of star 11 Com (mag. +4.7).
The Virgo cluster galaxies are best seen during the months of March, April and May.
Comet Jacques is now past its best but remains well placed for observation high in the sky during the second half of September. In July when at its brightest, Jacques reached the cusp of naked eye visibility; just too faint to be seen without optical aid but nevertheless a superb sight in binoculars, telescopes and a wonderful object for astro imagers.
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.
Comet Oukaimeden, which was discovered at the end of last year, has recently brightened sufficiently to move within binocular and small telescope range. During September, the comet should continue to improve until peaking at about magnitude +6.0 on the 19th, just short of naked eye visibility. It can be seen from the tropics and southern locations.
At the beginning of the month, Oukaimeden appeared as a well-placed morning object high in the sky towards the east before sunrise from the tropics and Southern Hemisphere. As the month progresses, it draws in towards the Sun but still remains well placed for at least the first two weeks of the month before switching to the evening sky. It should then be visible low down above the western horizon just after sunset during the last week of September.
From mid-latitude northern latitudes, Oukaimeden is not suitably placed for observation. It was visible for the first few days of September, low down towards the eastern sky during morning twilight, but then quickly lost to the Sun's glare.
Oukaimeden was discovered on November 12, 2013 at Oukaimeden observatory in Marrakech, Morocco using a 0.5-metre (20-inch) reflecting telescope by Michel Ory. It was the fourth comet discovered at the observatory and the first by Michel Ory. At apparent magnitude +19.4, Oukaimeden was extremely faint when found.
M104 more commonly known as the Sombrero Galaxy is a spectacular, almost edge-on, spiral galaxy located in Virgo. At magnitude +8.4, the Sombrero appears in binoculars as a small patch of nebulosity. Its most striking feature - visible in medium/large sized amateur scopes - is a ring of thick dust that encapsulates the bulge of the galaxy, giving the appearance of a Sombrero hat. Many astronomers regard M104 as the finest of all galaxies in Virgo.
Pierre Méchain discovered M104 on May 11, 1781. A couple of years later he described the galaxy in a letter to Johann Bernoulli and subsequently it was published in the Berliner Astronomisches Jahrbuch (Berlin Astronomy Year Book). Charles Messier made hand-written notes about this and five other objects but none were included in the final published catalogue version. The Sombrero Galaxy was finally added to the "official" catalogue in 1921 with the other five "missing" items (M105 to M109) added a few years later.
M104 was one of the first galaxies to have its spectra and velocity measured by Vesto Slipher in 1912. He noted that the object was redshifted and therefore receding from us, the current accepted rate being 900 km/s. Slipher's redshift calculation of M104 along with similar observations from other galaxies pointed towards an expanding Universe, hence providing a key piece of evidence for the Big Bang Theory.
M91, mag. +10.3, is a barred spiral galaxy located in the southern part of constellation Coma Berenices. It's a member of the Virgo cluster of galaxies and was discovered by Charles Messier on March 18, 1781. This was a productive night for Messier; he discovered eight objects, all of them Virgo cluster galaxies and also rediscovered globular cluster M92 in Hercules. When recording the position of M91, Messier incorrectly referenced its location from galaxy M58 when he meant to use M89. It was only a one degree mistake, however the result meant that M91 was a missing object for almost 200 years!
It was not until 1969 when some astronomy detective work by William Williams solved the mystery of M91. In 1969, he pinpointed the location in the sky after applying Messier's measurements to a starting point of M89 and concluded that the missing object was almost certainly NGC 4548.
Finding M91 can be challenging. The galaxy is located about a degree north of the Coma Berenices-Virgo constellation boundary but there are no bright stars in the vicinity. The general area of sky can be found by imagining a line connecting Denebola (β Leo - mag. +2.1) with Vindemiatrix (ε Vir - mag. +2.8). About 60% of the way along this line is elliptical galaxy M89 (mag. +10.0) with M91 positioned two degrees directly north of it.
Although just beyond naked eye visibility, comet Jacques has recently put on a fine display for binocular and telescope observers. During August the comet was high in the sky from northern locations - even circumpolar in many cases - as it passed through the constellations of Auriga, Perseus, Camelopardalis, Cassiopeia and Cepheus.
With 7x50 or 10x50 binoculars Jacques appeared as an out of focus "fuzzy" ball of light. Small telescopes of the order of 80mm (3.1-inch) aperture showed a bright centre, diffuse coma with hints of a short thin tail that was better seen through larger instruments. Photographically the comet appeared green in colour with a bright coma and narrow tail extending many degrees.
Now fading, Jacques remains high in the sky from northern and tropical locations throughout September. From the Southern Hemisphere, it reappears low down in the northern part of the sky at the beginning of the month with the visibility improving each day.
The comet remains visible with telescopes during September, although binocular observers may struggle to spot it towards the end of the month. It's expected to fade from magnitude +7.6 to +9.9 during this time. However, comets are unpredictable objects and almost anything can happen, so keep watching!
Location and star chart
After recently passing north of the "W" of Cassiopeia and to within a degree of the Garnet star in Cepheus, Jacques moved in Cygnus on September 2nd. The comet is now heading south-westerly and on September 5th will be located 2.5 degrees west/northwest of the brightest star in the constellation, Deneb (α Cyg - mag. +1.25) which also forms one corner of the "Summer Triangle" asterism. Jacques then continues its path through the rich Milky Way star fields of Cygnus before moving into Vulpecula on February 14th, Sagitta on September 21st and Aquila on September 24th, where it stays for the remainder of the month.
The finder chart below shows the positions of Jacques from September 1 to September 9, 2014.
Mercury reaches greatest elongation east on September 21st when it's positioned 26 degrees east of the Sun, close to the maximum possible obtainable. Unfortunately due to the angle of the ecliptic, the planet is unsuitably placed for observation from northern temperate latitudes this month. However for observers in equatorial and more southerly locations Mercury is superbly placed, visible above the western horizon just after sunset throughout September and into early October. From these latitudes, this also happens to be the most favourable evening apparition of the year.
For example, on September 1st from latitude 35S (approx. equal to Sydney, Cape Town and Santiago), Mercury will appear 10 degrees above the western horizon 45 minutes after sunset. The planets altitude then increases each subsequent evening, peaking on the day of greatest elongation east at 17 degrees. By months end Mercury is still 14 degrees above the horizon. The diagram below shows the changes in position of Mercury, 45 minutes after sunset from latitudes of 35 degrees south.
During September, the brightness of Mercury fades slightly from magnitude -0.2 to +0.3. On the 21st, the planet passes 0.6 degrees south of Spica (α Vir - mag. +1.0) with the thin waxing crescent Moon 4 degrees south of Mercury on the same day, forming a nice triangle.
Venus long morning apparition finally comes to an end during September. At the start of the month the planet remains a brilliant object low above the eastern horizon before dawn, shining at magnitude -3.9. However, it's not long before the brightest planet of all is lost to the glare of the Sun. For those at southern latitudes the planet will only be visible for the first week of the month, observers at northern temperate latitudes should be able to catch Venus until at least the middle of the month with those in the tropics possibly able to glimpse the planet for a few more days still.
On September 5th, Venus reaches perihelion at a distant of 0.718 AU (approx. 107 million kilometres or 66.7 million miles) from the Sun. On the same day the planet passes 0.8 degrees north of the Regulus (α Leo - mag +1.4), the brightest star in Leo.
Mars remains an evening object during September, visible after sunset above the southwestern horizon (NH) / western horizon (SH). The Earth is currently distancing itself from the planet so it continues to fade in brightness (mag. +0.6 to +0.8) and shrink in apparent size (6.8 to 6.1 arc seconds) as the month progresses.
Having overtaken Saturn at the end of last month, the "Red planet" starts September in Libra. It then continues its rapid direct movement against the "fixed" background stars, passing into Scorpius on September 13th before moving into Ophiuchus on September 26th, where it remains for the remainder of the month.
Last month it was interesting to compare the colours of deep orange-red Mars as it passed by creamish white Saturn. This month, another interesting conjunction occurs on September 27th when Mars passes 3 degrees north of red supergiant Antares (α Sco - mag. +1.0), the brightest star in Scorpius. Antares is often referred to as the "Rival of Mars" and the two should appear very similar to the naked eye, although Mars will be marginally brighter at magnitude +0.8.
On September 29th, the waxing crescent Moon passes 3 degrees north of Mars.
Jupiter. mag. +1.9, is now a brilliant morning object moving direct amongst the stars of Cancer. At the beginning of September, the dominant planet in the Solar System rises over 2 hours before the Sun increasing to over 4 hours by months end.
The planet dominates a relatively barren part of the sky although the twins of Castor (α Gem - mag. +1.6) and Pollux (β Gem - mag. +1.1) are positioned about 20 degrees northwest of Jupiter. Since moving into the morning sky, this is probably the first month when telescope users have enough observing time to study the planet in detail. As the year progresses, Jupiter will continue to brighten and increase in apparent size as it moves towards opposition early next year.
On September 20th, the waning crescent Moon passes 5 degrees south of Jupiter.
Saturn, mag. +0.6, remains an early evening object in Libra throughout the month. On September 1st, the "Ringed planet" appears rather low down above the southwestern horizon from northern temperate latitudes, setting about 2 hours after the Sun. However, it's much better placed from Southern Hemisphere locations, where it appears higher in the sky and sets much later at around midnight.
On the first day of the month, Mars (mag. +0.6) is positioned 5 degrees southeast of Saturn but as its much closer to Earth and traveling on a faster trajectory, it's not long before Mars distances itself from Saturn.
By months end, for northern-based observers Saturn will be rather low down at dusk but better placed and easier to see for observers located further south. On September 28th, the waxing crescent Moon passes 0.7 degrees north of Saturn and an occultation is visible from Hawaii, southwestern Alaska and the Pacific Ocean (4:25 UT).
Uranus, mag. +5.7, is now closing in on next month's opposition. The planet is moving slowly retrograde in Pisces and at the start of September rises in the east less than two hours after sunset. The period of visibility continues to improve as the month progresses and by month's end, Uranus is practically visible all night.
A good starting point to find Uranus is the "Great Square of Pegasus". Uranus is positioned about 25 degrees southeast of the centre of the square. The stars ε Psc (mag. +4.3) and δ Psc (mag. +4.4) are positioned 2 degrees northeast and 2 degrees northwest of Uranus respectively.
Uranus has an apparent diameter of 3.7 arc seconds and a small telescope at high magnification will show a small green disk that's obviously non-stellar. However, even when viewed through the largest amateur scopes it's difficult to make out any surface details on Uranus.
On September 11th the waning gibbous Moon passes 1 degree north of Uranus.
Neptune is located in Aquarius and has recently just past opposition (August 29th). The distant planet is moving very slowly retrograde and remains well placed for observation during September, visible as soon as it's dark enough until just before sunrise. At magnitude +7.8, Neptune is the only planet that can't be glimpsed with the naked eye (under dark skies Uranus can be seen), however it can be spotted relatively easily with binoculars or small telescopes.
The constellation Aquarius lies between the Great Square of Pegasus and the barren starfields of Capricornus and Piscis Austrinus. It contains mostly faint stars but locating Neptune is not difficult once you have identified sigma Aqr (σ Aqr -mag. +4.8). Neptune is positioned about a degree to the north with the planet being 15x fainter than the star.
On September 8th, the almost full Moon passes 5 degrees north of Neptune.
M99 is a magnitude +10.2 spiral galaxy situated in the southern part of the constellation of Coma Berenices. It's a beautiful object that's a member of the Virgo cluster of galaxies and appears almost face-on from our perspective. M99 was discovered by Pierre Mechain on March 15, 1781, on the same night he also discovered M98 and M100. The discoveries were then reported to Charles Messier, who measured the positions before adding them to his catalogue on April 13, 1781. This was just prior to the release of the third and final published edition.
The 3rd Earl of Rosse, William Parsons, first identified the spiral structure of M99 in 1846 using his 72-inch (1.83 m) reflecting telescope at Birr Castle in Ireland. The galaxy was one of the first to have its structure identified. At the time, Rosse was using the World's largest optical telescope.
M99 is located 55 Million light-years from Earth. It covers 5.3 x 4.6 arc minutes of apparent sky, which corresponds to a spatial diameter of 85,000 light-years. The galaxy is positioned 7 degrees east of bright star Denebola (β Leo - mag. +2.1) and just less than 1 degree southeast of star 6 Com (mag. +5.1). Tenth magnitude edge-on spiral galaxy M98 lies 0.5 degrees west of 6 Com.
If you live in the Northern Hemisphere the next few weeks offer a superb opportunity to spot Comet Jacques. The comet appears high in the sky and passes just north of the famous and easily recognisable "W" of Cassiopeia. Although not visible to the naked eye, Jacques shines at 7th magnitude and therefore within the range of binoculars and small telescopes.
Jacques was discovered by Cristovao Jacques, Eduardo Pimentel and Joao Ribeiro de Barros on March 13, 2014, shining at a dim magnitude +14.7. The comet passed perihelion on July 2nd when it approached to within 0.66 AU (99 million kilometres or 61 million miles) of the Sun. On August 28th, Jacques will pass closest to the Earth at distance of 0.56 AU (84 million kilometres or 52 million miles). It will be visible in Cepheus at magnitude +7.5 on this day.
Location and star chart
Before, during and after flyby of Earth, Jacques moves at it's fastest against the "fixed" background stars. The comet began August in the constellation Auriga before moving into Perseus on August 5th. It then passed into Camelopardalis on August 14th remaining there for a few days before moving into Cassiopeia on the 18th. Jacques is currently moving westwards and between August 22nd and 26th passes about 5 degrees north of the Cassiopeia "W" asterism. With a declination of 60+ degrees north during this time, Jacques is circumpolar and hence visible all night from latitudes of 30N or more. On August 26th, the comet moves into Cepheus where it remains for the rest of the month. It will pass 0.5 degrees south of Herschel's famous Garnet Star (μ Cep - mag. +4.1(v)) on the last day of the month. From southern temperate latitudes, Jacques won't be visible again until early September.
The comet is expected to fade from magnitude +6.5 to +7.6 during August. So far it has put on a fine show with a nice coma and small tail visible through binoculars and small telescopes. Photographically it looks green in appearance.
The finder chart below shows the positions of Jacques from August 22 to August 31, 2014.
M98, mag. +10.4, is a large beautiful edge-on spiral galaxy that's located in the southern section of the constellation of Coma Berenices. It's one of the fainter Messier objects and to spot it a medium sized amateur telescope or greater is recommended. The galaxy is a member of the Virgo cluster and was discovered by Pierre Mechain on March 15, 1781. On the same night he also discovered M99 and M100. Messier catalogued them shortly afterwards and remarked that M98 was the faintest of the three.
M98 is one of a small group of galaxies that are blueshifted. The vast majority of galaxies are receding from us and display redshifts but due to the movement of M98 within the Virgo cluster, it's currently falling towards us, hence the blueshift. The galaxy is located about 57 Million light-years distant and has an apparent size of 9.8 x 2.8 arc minutes. This corresponds to an actual diameter of 160,000 light-years. It's estimated to contain 1 trillion stars.
Pinpointing the area of sky where M98 is located is easy. It's located 6 degrees east of Denebola (β Leo - mag. +2.1) the third brightest star in Leo. The star 6 Com (mag. +5.1) lies 0.5 degree east of M98 and acts as a perfect marker.
The Virgo cluster galaxies are best seen during the months of March, April and May.
M102 is a galaxy catalogued by Charles Messier that hasn't been explicitly identified. It was Pierre Mechain who made the original observation in March 1781 before passing the information onto Messier, who catalogued it without verification. However, Mechain himself believed M102 was an error and wrote a letter on the May 6, 1783 expressing his view that the object was in fact a duplicate entry of M101. The story does not end there, historical evidence based on Messier description of the galaxy combined with its co-ordinates suggest that M102 could well be lenticular galaxy NGC 5866, also known as the Spindle galaxy. A number of other possible candidates have been suggested but it seems both Messier and Mechain have observed NGC 5866 in the past and therefore we list it as the missing item.
The Spindle galaxy (mag. +9.9) is located at the southern edge of the far northern constellation of Draco. It's positioned four degrees southwest of star Iota Draconis (ι Dra - mag. +3.3). Directly west of NGC 5866 are the seven stars that form the famous "Plough" or "Big Dipper" asterism of Ursa Major.
NGC 5866 is a challenging binocular object but easier to spot with small scopes. It's best seen from the Northern Hemisphere during the months of April, May and June. From latitudes of 35N or greater, the galaxy is circumpolar and therefore never sets.
M86 is a giant lenticular or elliptical galaxy located in Virgo that's one of the brighter galaxies in the Virgo cluster (mag. +9.3). It lies at the heart of the grouping and forms a conspicuous pair with close neighbour and almost twin, M84. Through a medium sized scope, M86 appears as a bright, elongated patch of light. Also visible in the same low/medium power eyepiece field of view is M84.
It's currently not 100% certain what type of galaxy M86 is, it could be either a type S0 lenticular galaxy or an elliptical galaxy of type E3. The galaxy is unusual in that it's blue shifted and hence moving towards the Milky Way. Due to the expansion of the Universe most galaxies are receding and show redshifts. However, M86 is falling towards the centre of the Virgo cluster, causing it to move towards us at a speed of 244 km/s. This resulting blueshift is the highest of all Messier objects.
M86 was discovered by Charles Messier on March 18, 1781. This was an extremely productive night for Messier since he also discovered another seven Virgo cluster members and rediscovered globular cluster M92 in Hercules. The galaxy has an apparent diameter of 8.9 x 5.8 arc minutes and at a distance of 52 million light-years this corresponds to a spatial diameter of 135,000 light-years. It's estimated to contain at least 400 billion stars.
M86 is positioned close to the Virgo-Coma Berenices constellation border and can be found by imagining a line connecting Denebola (β Leo - mag. +2.1) with Vindemiatrix (ε Vir - mag. +2.8). Towards the centre of this line is M86 and positioned 17 arc minutes west of M86 is M84.
The Virgo cluster galaxies are best seen during the months of March, April and May.
M60 is an elliptical galaxy and a member of the Virgo cluster of galaxies. With an apparent magnitude of +9.2 it's the third brightest of the giant elliptical galaxies in the Virgo cluster. Only M49 (mag. +8.4) and M87 (mag. +8.7) appear more luminous from our perspective. M60 is visible with small scopes or large binoculars, but as with most galaxies it's better seen with greater aperture.
On April 11, 1779 while comet chasing, Johann Gottfried Koehler discovered M60 together with its slightly smaller and fainter neighbour M59. Also searching around the same time and the same part of the sky was none other than Charles Messier, who independently found both M59 and M60 four days after Koehler. During his search, Messier also discovered M58, another nearby Virgo cluster galaxy that was missed by Koehler. Of the three galaxies, Messier described M60 as the brightest with M59 and M58 being fainter and of similar magnitude.
Locating M60 is relatively easy. Start by imagining a line from Vindemiatrix (ε Vir - mag. +2.8) heading in the direction of Denebola (β Leo - mag. +2.1). About 4.5 degrees along this line is M60 with M59 positioned 0.4 degrees west of M60. Moving another degree in the same westerly direction arrives at M58.
M60 is estimated to lie 55 million light-years from Earth. It spans 7.6 x 6.2 arc minutes of apparent sky, which corresponds to a spatial diameter of 120,000 light-years. The galaxy contains about 400 billion stars and is best seen during the months of March, April and May.
M17, also known as the Omega Nebula, is an emission nebula located in the rich Milky Way star fields of Sagittarius. It's a HII star formation region that shines at magnitude +6.0, placing it at the limit of naked eye visibility. Through binoculars, M17 appears as a diffuse patch of light that's oval shaped. In the same field of view to the south are open cluster M18 (mag. +7.5) and M24, the very large Sagittarius Star Cloud (mag. +4.6).
The Omega Nebula is located 5,500 light-years from Earth. Embedded within it is an open cluster of at least 35 stars that provides the source of the glowing gas. In many similar nebulae such stars are easily visible, but not so in the case of M17. They are hidden deep within the structure and therefore not obvious. In total, there are many hundreds of stars contained inside.
M17 was discovered by Philippe Loys de Chéseaux sometime between 1745-46. Charles Messier independently rediscovered it on June 3, 1764. The nebula covers 20 x 15 arc minutes of apparent sky, which corresponds to an actual diameter of 32 light-years. It's also sometimes referred to as the Swan Nebula, Horseshoe Nebula, Checkmark Nebula or Lobster Nebula.
The object is best seen from southern and equatorial regions during the months of June, July and August.
Comet Jacques is now gradually fading in brightness but is currently superbly placed for observation from Northern Hemisphere latitudes. The comet started August in Auriga and at magnitude +6.7 was easily within binocular and small telescope range. Through the eyepiece it displayed a bright condensed coma with a short tail.
Location and star chart
Jacques is currently continuing on its northwesterly path and moved into Perseus on August 5th where it remains until the 15th. On this date, the comet passes into the faint constellation of Camelopardalis and is expected to have faded slightly to magnitude +6.8. It then moves into Cassiopeia on August 19th before crossing into Cepheus on August 27th, where it stays for the remainder of the month.
From northern latitudes, the comet is visible during August high in the sky towards the east in the early hours of the morning. The visibility improves as the month progresses. From latitudes of 40N or greater, Jacques is circumpolar during the second half of August, hence never setting. It should remain within binocular range although by months end is expected to have faded to magnitude +7.4
From Southern Hemisphere latitudes, the comet won't be visible again until early September. The finder chart below shows the positions of Jacques from August 11 to August 22, 2014.
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.
M61, mag. +9.9, is a face-on barred spiral galaxy that belongs to the Virgo cluster of galaxies. It was discovered by Barnabus Oriani while comet chasing on May 5, 1779. Ironically, Charles Messier observed M61 on the same day but mistakenly though he had seen a comet! A few days later he realised his mistake.
M61 is reasonably large galaxy with a diameter of 100,000 light-years, similar to own Milky Way. It has an apparent size of 6.5 x 5.9 arc minutes and is located 52.5 million light-years distant. The galaxy appears visually compact and is one of the finest "small" barred spiral galaxies in the sky for large backyard scopes.
It's located 8 degrees northwest of binary star Porrima (γ Vir - mag. +2.7), 1.25 degrees north-northeast of 16 Vir (mag. +5.0) and best seen during the months of March, April and May.
M64 is a beautiful spiral galaxy known as the Black Eye Galaxy due to a spectacular dark band of absorbing dust in front of the nucleus, resulting in a smudged appearance. With an apparent magnitude of +8.8, it can be glimpsed with good binoculars on dark nights, appearing as a faint slightly irregular patch of light.
The Black Eye Galaxy is located in the constellation of Coma Berenices and was discovered by English astronomer Edward Pigott on March 23, 1779. Twelve days later Johann Elert Bode independently found it and Charles Messier adding it to his catalogue on March 1, 1780. The dark dust feature was discovered by William Herschel in 1785, comparing it to a black eye.
It's located 5 degrees northwest of Diadem (α Com - mag. +4.3) on an imaginary line connecting stars, 35 Com (mag. +4.9) and 40 Com (mag. +5.5), with M64 positioned one degree northeast of 35 Com. Arcturus, the brightest star in the northern section of the sky and fourth brightest overall is located 19 degrees east and a little south of M64.
The galaxy is 24 Million light-years distant and has an apparent size of 10.0 x 5.4 arc minutes, which corresponds to an actual linear diameter of 70,000 light-years. It's estimated to contain 100 billion stars and is best seen from northern latitudes during the months of March, April and May.
M84 is a magnitude +9.4 lenticular or elliptical galaxy that belongs to the Virgo cluster of galaxies. Although one of the brighter members of the famous cluster, it's challenging to spot with popular 7x50 or 10x50 binoculars. Larger binoculars such as 20x80s or small telescopes make the task easier but as with most galaxies, dark skies are important. It's currently not clear what type of galaxy M84 is, it could either be a lenticular galaxy of type S0 seen face-on or an elliptical galaxy of type E1.
Charles Messier discovered M84 during one of his regular night sky patrols on March 18, 1781. He also discovered and catalogued another eight objects on the same day including M86, another giant lenticular or elliptical galaxy that's positioned just east of M84. The apparent size of M84 is 6.5 x 5.6 arc minutes and it's about 60 Million light years distant. This corresponds to a spatial diameter of 110,000 light-years.
M84 lies at the heart of the Virgo Cluster, close to the Virgo-Coma Berenices constellation border. It can be found by imagining a line connecting Denebola (β Leo - mag. +2.1) to Vindemiatrix (ε Vir - mag. +2.8). At the centre point of this line is M84 with M86 positioned 17 arc minutes east of M84.
The Virgo cluster galaxies are best seen during the months of March, April and May.
The Perseids one of the finest annual meteor showers peaks this year on the night of August 12th/13th. On this date up to 100 meteors per hour can be seen under perfect conditions. Unfortunately this year's spectacle will be greatly affected by the full Moon, which occurs on the same day. However, all is not lost since many Perseids can still be seen in the days leading up to the maximum, when the Moon won't interfere as much.
Discovery and Parent Body
The Perseids meteor shower is associated with comet 109P/Swift–Tuttle or as it's more often known comet Swift-Tuttle; a Halley-type object with an orbital period of 133 years. The Perseid cloud consists of particles ejected by the comet and stretches along the comet's orbit. It's believed that most of today's dust in the cloud is about 1000 years old, although some parts may be considerably younger. When the Earth passes through a replenished area the meteor rate is increased compared to the older part of the stream. Recent analysis by NASA has rated the Perseids as the best meteor shower when it comes to fireballs. The shower is also extremely reliable and rarely fails to deliver. Of all other annual showers only the December Geminids is comparable.
The Perseids were first recorded by Chinese observers in 36 AD with comet Swift-Tuttle independently discovered by Lewis Swift on July 16, 1862 and by Horace Parnell Tuttle on July 19, 1862. Computations of the orbit of the Perseids between 1864 and 1866 by Italian astronomer G. V. Schiaparelli revealed a very strong resemblance to the recently discovered comet and this was the first time a meteor shower had been positively identified with a comet. The years either side of perihelion, usually exhibit higher rates of Persieds meteors, as was the case during the last perihelion in 1992. Swift-Tuttle on this occasion was visible from Earth with binoculars.
This meteor shower gets the name "Perseids" because it's radiant is located in the constellation Perseus. The radiant, the point in the sky where the meteors appear to originate from is positioned at right ascension (RA) 02hr 27m and declination (DEC) +58 degrees. This is close to the border with Cassiopeia and its well-known "W" shape asterism.
The meteors are visible from about July 17th to August 24th with rates starting low, gradually building up to the peak date, before falling off again afterwards. The shower is best seen from the northern hemisphere where the radiant appears high towards the northeastern part of the sky.
For those located in the southern hemisphere, the Perseid radiant is either very low down or even never climbs above the horizon. This considerably reduces the number of meteors likely to be seen, although it's possible to see a few meteors per hour coming up from the northern horizon.
M68 is a mag. +7.8 medium sized globular cluster located in eastern Hydra that was discovered by Charles Messier on April 9, 1780. Although not as spectacular as great globulars such as Omega Centauri, 47 Tucanae or M13, it's easily visible with 7x50 or 10x50 binoculars and appears obviously non-stellar. The globular is well seen through medium and large sized amateur scopes.
Hydra is the night sky's largest constellation. However, despite it's immense apparent size it contains only one reasonably bright star, Alphard (α Hya) at mag. +2.0. Despite this, locating M68 is quite easy as it's positioned just south of the relatively bright quadrangle of Corvus (Crv) and 3.5 degress southeast of star β Crv (mag. +2.6).
With a declination of -26.7 degrees, M68 is best seen from the Southern Hemisphere during the months of March, April and May. From northern temperate locations it appears low down and doesn't climb very high above the southern horizon at best.
Mercury starts the month heading towards superior conjunction which it reaches on August 8th. The planet is located on the far side of the Sun and remains unobservable from northern temperate latitudes throughout the month. Observers located at equatorial and southern hemisphere latitudes will be able to spot Mercury during the last week of August when it becomes visible as an evening object, low down above the western horizon just after sunset.
For example on August 23rd, Mercury shines at magnitude -0.6 and from latitude 35S (approx. equal to Sydney, Cape Town and Santiago) it will appear 7 degrees above the western horizon, 30 minutes after sunset. On the last day of the month it will have dimmed slightly to magnitude -0.3 but on the other hand 12 degrees above the same horizon.
For many months now Venus has been a superb dazzling morning object before sunrise. The planet remains visible towards the northeast during August but by months end rises just one hour before the Sun. At magnitude -3.9, Venus is unmistakable, a blazing beacon of light above the horizon.
On August 18, Venus passes only 0.2 degrees north of Jupiter (mag. -1.8). The pairing forms a wonderful sight in the pre-dawn sky for a few days before and after this. The brightness difference is noticeable, Venus appears about five times brighter than the much larger but more distant Jupiter. On August 23rd, the thin waning crescent Moon passes about 5 degrees south of Venus and Jupiter.
Mars remains an evening object this month as it continues its rapid south-easterly motion against the "fixed" background stars. At the start of the month the "Red planet" is located in Virgo, 8 degrees southeast of the constellation brightest star Spica (α Vir - mag. +1.0). On August 10th, Mars moves into Libra where it remains for the remainder of the month. Also currently located in Libra is Saturn and Mars will catch up and overtake the "Ringed planet" on August 27th. Both planets have the same brightness (mag. +0.6) but the colour contrast is striking - Mars a deep orange-red and Saturn an off white almost creamish colour.
As the month progresses, Mars fades slightly from magnitude +0.4 to +0.6 with its apparent size shrinking from 7.9 to 6.8 arc seconds. The planet sets about 2 hours after the Sun from northern temperate latitudes but from Southern Hemisphere latitudes it's visible for twice as long. On August 3rd, the first quarter Moon passes 2.2 degrees north of Mars.
Jupiter, magnitude -1.8, passed through solar conjunction at the end of last month. From about the middle of August it will reappear above the eastern horizon in the early morning sky, rising a few minutes earlier each subsequent day. The planet is currently located in the constellation of Cancer with an apparent size of about 32 arc seconds. From northern temperate latitudes, Jupiter rises more than 2.5 hours before the Sun, although considerably less from more southerly locations.
Although, the largest planet of our solar system is probably too low above the east-northeastern horizon for serious telescopic observation this month, it's still an impressive naked eye sight. As mentioned above, Venus passes only 0.2 degrees north of Jupiter on August 18th.
Saturn is now again moving direct amongst the stars of Libra. The planet reached its second stationary point last month signaling the end of this year's opposition period. However, Saturn remains reasonably well placed for observation during August. By months end it sets about 2 hours after the Sun from northern temp latitudes and rather later from locations further south.
The planets brightness dims slightly from mag +0.5 to +0.6 as the month progresses with its apparent size reducing from 17.1 to 16.3 arc seconds. As already mentioned Mars is currently in the same area of sky and on August 27th, it will overtake and pass 4 degrees south of Saturn.
The first quarter Moon will passes 0.1 degrees south of Saturn on August 4th with an occultation visible from New Zealand and most of Australia (10:32 UT). Later in the month on August 31st, the waxing crescent Moon passes 0.4 degrees north of Saturn with an occultation visible from West Africa (18:59 UT).
Uranus is an evening object, shining at magnitude +5.8 amongst the stars of Pisces. At the start of the month, the distant planet rises in the east before midnight and a little earlier each day as the month progresses. It then remains visible for the remainder of the night.
Uranus is positioned 15 degrees south, 20 degrees east of the centre of the "Great Square of Pegasus" and 2 degrees south of star ε Psc (mag. +4.3). The planet is bright enough to be easily spotted with binoculars or a small telescope. It's also visible to the naked eye but this is a challenging task, requiring dark skies.
A small telescope at high magnification will show the planet as a small green disk, obviously non-stellar (apparent diameter 3.6 arc seconds). However, even when viewed through the largest amateur scopes it's difficult to make out any surface details.
On August 14th, the waning gibbous Moon passes 1.2 degrees north of Uranus.
Neptune (mag. +7.8), the most distant planet in the Solar System reaches opposition in Aquarius on August 29th and hence is visible all night long. At opposition the planet is positioned 28.963 AU (4333 million km or 2692 million miles) from Earth.
With a declination of almost -10 degrees, Neptune is currently better situated for observation for observers located in either the tropics or Southern Hemisphere than for those in the Northern Hemisphere.
The planet is located a couple of degrees northeast of Sigma (σ) Aqr (mag. +4.8) and about 30 degrees southwest of the Great Square of Pegasus. Although Neptune is a considerably sized planet it's too distant and hence too faint to be seen with the naked eye. However, it's visible with binoculars. A small to medium sized telescope at high magnifications will show the planet as a small bluish disk, although the surface appears devoid of details.
On August 12th, the full Moon passes 5 degrees north of Neptune.
The Southern Pinwheel Galaxy also known as M83 is a barred spiral galaxy approximately 14.7 million light-years distant in the eastern section of the largest constellation of all, Hydra. It's one of the closest barred spirals, a showpiece galaxy and the finest barred spiral in the sky. With an apparent magnitude of +7.5, M83 is visible with 7x50 or 10x50 binoculars, appearing under dark skies as a patch of light with a brighter centre. It was discovered by Nicholas Louis de Lacaille at the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa on February 23, 1752 and added by Charles Messier to his catalogue on February 17, 1781.
With a declination of 30 degrees south, M83 is best seen from Southern Hemisphere or equatorial regions during the months of April, May and June. For mid-latitude northern hemisphere observers, the galaxy can be a difficult object; it's the southernmost galaxy in Messier's list and therefore never climbs particularly high above the southern horizon.
Despite being a relatively bright galaxy M83 can be tricky to locate as it's positioned in a part of the sky devoid of bright stars. It can be found by locating stars γ Hya (mag. +3.0) and π Hya (mag. +3.3). Imagine a line connecting these two stars and then move along the line until just short of the halfway mark. Located about 6 degrees south of this point is M83.
M59 is an elliptical galaxy in Virgo and a member of the Virgo cluster that was discovered by Johann Gottfried Koehler on April 11, 1779 while observing a comet in that region of sky. On the same day, he also discovered neigbouring galaxy M60, a slightly larger and brighter version of M59. Also comet chasing at that time was Charles Messier who independently found both galaxies four days after Koehler. During his search, Messier also discovered M58 another nearby Virgo cluster galaxy that was missed by Koehler. Of the three, Messier described M60 as the brightest galaxy with M59 and M58 being fainter and of similar magnitude.
At apparent magnitude +9.8, M59 is a challenging small telescope object. It can be spotted with small 80mm (3.1-inch) scopes or even large binoculars, but dark skies are a must. Even then it only appears as a hazy patch, that's better seen with larger amateur instruments. The galaxy is located 60 Million light years distant. It displays an apparent size of 5.4 x 3.7 arc minutes, which corresponds to a spatial diameter of 95,000 light-years. Despite been one of the larger elliptical galaxies in the Virgo cluster, M59 is considerably less massive and less luminous than the other great cluster ellipticals, M49, M60 and M87.
A good proportion of the Messier Virgo Cluster galaxies can be found along or near an imaginary line connecting Denebola (β Leo - mag. +2.1) to Vindemiatrix (ε Vir - mag. +2.8). M59 is no exception and it's positioned about 5 degrees from Vindemiatrix. Located 0.4 degrees east of M59 is M60 with M58 one degree west of M59.
The galaxies are best seen during the months of March, April and May.
The Southern Delta Aquariids is a strong and fairly consistent meteor shower that takes place from July 12th to August 23rd. This year, peak activity occurs on July 29th and is predicted to reach a maximum Zenithal Hourly Rate (ZHR) of 16 meteors per hour. The stream is generally regarded as producing faint meteors, void of fireballs which move across the sky at slow to medium velocity. The shower is best seen from the tropics and southern hemisphere, upon where the radiant appears higher in the sky, compared to northern temperate latitudes.
The Southern Delta Aquariids is the brighter part of the Delta Aquariid meteor shower; the Northern Delta Aquariids being the weaker stream. The period of activity of the northern shower is similar to that of its southern partner - from July 15th to August 25th (peak: August 6th) - although it's ZHR is a paltry 4 meteors per hour.
Discovery and Parent Body
Lieutenant Colonel G. L. Tupman, a member of the Italian Meteoric Association made the first detailed recordings of Delta Aquariids meteors between July 27th and August 6th, 1870. The streams were then unidentified, but by plotting data from 65 meteors, he was to a reasonable degree of accuracy able to determine the general area of the radiant.
Between 1926 and 1933, New Zealander Ronald McIntosh improved the position of the radiant based on a greater number of observations. A few years later in 1938, Cuno Hoffmeister founder of Sonneberg Observatory, along with his German colleagues were able to first record the northern part of the stream. It was astronomer Mary Almond, in 1952, who finally confirmed the presence of the two separate radiants.
The parent body of the Southern Delta Aquariids is uncertain. However, comet 96P/Machholz or comet Machholz as it's often referred to is a possible candidate. This Jupiter family comet was discovered in 1986 by amateur astronomer Donald Machholz using just a pair of 130mm binoculars. It has an orbital period of 5.2 years.
The shower radiants are located in the faint zodiac constellation of Aquarius, which is positioned about 30 degrees to the south and southwest of the "Square of Pegasus". The southern radiant is just over 3 degrees west of star Skat (δ Aqr - mag. +3.3), with the northern radiant a further 14 degrees to the north. The brightest star in the surrounding sky is first magnitude Fomalhaut (α PsA - mag. +1.2) in the constellation Piscis Austrinus. Fomalhaut is positioned about 14 degrees south-southeast of the southern radiant.
After passing perihelion on July 2nd, Comet Jacques (C/2014 E2) has now moved into the early morning sky. On July 22nd it shone at magnitude +6.3, therefore just beyond naked eye visibility but bright enough to be seen with binoculars and small telescopes. The comet is now slowly decreasing in magnitude but will remain bright enough to be visible with binoculars and small scopes for many weeks to come.
Location and star chart
Jacques spends the last week of July and the first part of August moving in a northwest direction through the constellation of Auriga. It then passes into Perseus on August 5th remaining there until the 15th, before moving into the sparse dim constellation of Camelopardalis. During this time, it's expected Jacques will fade in brightness from magnitude +6.3 to +7.0. For Northern Hemisphere observers, the comet is now well placed for observation. It's visible towards the east in the morning sky, improving in latitude as the month progress. From Southern Hemisphere latitudes Jacques is visible very low towards the eastern sky during morning twilight at the end of July, but is then quickly lost to the bright glare of the Sun and won't be visible again until early September.
The finder chart below shows the positions of Jacques from July 19 to August 10, 2014.
M55 is a globular cluster located in eastern Sagittarius towards its border with Capricornus and Microscopium. At magnitude +6.7, it's beyond naked eye visibility but bright enough to be seen with binoculars. However, it's not an easy globular to locate since there aren't any particular bright stars nearby. With a declination of -30 degrees, M55 is one of the more southerly objects in Messier's catalogue and therefore especially difficult for observers based at northern temperate latitudes. It's best seen from southern or equatorial latitudes during the months of June, July and August.
M55 was discovered by Nicholas Louis de Lacaille on June 16, 1752 while observing from South Africa. Charles Messier then catalogued it on July 24, 1778. From Paris, Messier had difficulty finding M55, it took him 14 years to spot it!
Finding M55 can be challenging. One method is to begin with the "teapot" asterism of Sagittarius. Start by locating stars Kaus Media (δ Sgr - mag. +2.7) and Ascella (ζ Sgr - mag. +2.6). Then imagine a line from Kaus Media moving eastwards towards and passing through Ascella. Curve this line for another 17 degrees to arrive at M55.
Mercury passed through inferior conjunction last month (June 19th). However, it moves fast and only a couple of weeks later is once again in view. On July 1st, the planet appears low down in the morning sky above the northeastern horizon from southern latitudes, remaining visible until about the third week of the month. From northern temperate latitudes, Mercury is not suitably placed for observation this month.
Mercury is best placed around July 12th, the date it reaches greatest western elongation (21 degrees). From latitude 35S (approx. equal to Sydney, Cape Town and Santiago), the nearest planet to the Sun will shine at magnitude +0.4 and appear 8 degrees above the northeastern horizon, 45 minutes before sunrise. It should be noted that once past greatest elongation, Mercury continues to brighten as it draws into the Sun. Finding Mercury is always easier when there's a bright marker nearby. Such an opportunity exists from approx. July 14th to 18th when Mercury can be found about 6 degrees below brilliant Venus (mag. -3.8).
Venus continues to be visible as a brilliant object low down above the northeastern horizon during July, rising about 2 hours before the Sun at the start of July, but less by months end.
As the month progresses, Venus fades marginally from mag. -3.9 to -3.8, which is at the bottom end of its magnitude range. However, it's still far brighter than any other planet. On July 2nd, Venus passes 4 degrees north of Aldebaran (α Tau - mag +0.9) and later in the month (24th) the waning crescent Moon passes 4 degrees south of Venus.
Earth reaches aphelion on July 4th at 1.017 AU (approx. 152.1 million km or 94.5 million miles) from the Sun. This corresponds to the greatest distance of the planet from the Sun during its yearly orbit.
Mars resumed direct motion in May and is currently moving southeasterly through the constellation of Virgo. The rapid motion of the planet against the "fixed" background stars can be easily observed during July. At the start of the month the "Red planet" is positioned 6 degrees northwest of Spica (mag. +1.0). On July 12th, it passes 1.4 degrees north of the star and by months end Mars has moved more than 8 degrees away.
The distance between Earth and Mars increases from 148 to 178 million kilometres (92 to 111 million miles) during July. Hence the planets brightness decreases from mag. 0.0 to +0.4 and its apparent diameter from 9.5 to 7.9 arc seconds.
On July 6th the first quarter Moon passes 0.2 degrees north of Mars, with an occultation visible from South America (1:22 UT).
Jupiter reaches solar conjunction on July 24th. The planet may be glimpsed from southern and equatorial latitudes just after sunset during the first few days of the month, low down above the west-northwest horizon. However, even at magnitude -1.8 it won't be long before the giant planet is lost to the bright twilight glare. From northern temperate latitudes, Jupiter isn't visible at all this month.
Saturn remains a well-placed evening object in Libra. The planet begins the month moving retrograde before reaching its secondary stationary point on July 20th. Following this direct motion is once again resumed. To the naked eye Saturn hardly moves during July, appearing like a "fixed" off-white star positioned 2.5 degrees northeast of beautiful double star Zubenelgenubi (α Lib - mag. +2.75).
The planet is visible as soon as it's dark enough towards the south-southeast from northern temperate latitudes or towards the northeast from southern temperate latitudes. It remains visible until after midnight. Saturn fades slightly from magnitude +0.2 to +0.4 with its apparent diameter shrinking from 17.9 to 17.1 arc seconds as the month progress.
On July 8th, the waxing gibbous Moon passes 0.4 degrees south of Saturn with an occultation visible from Argentina and Chile (2:25 UT).
Uranus (mag. +5.9) is now well placed for observation amongst the stars of Pisces. Although the planet was not discovered until telescopic times it's actually visible to the naked eye, albeit faintly. This is a challenge and if you manage to achieve it, you will join a small select group of people. However, essential for the task is a dark moonless site, good seeing conditions and a good star chart to point to the exact planet location.
At the start of July from northern temperate locations, Uranus rises 4 hours before sunrise and by months end is visible from about midnight. The visibility period from locations further south is even better with Uranus visible before midnight by months end.
The planet is positioned 15 degrees south and 20 degrees east of the centre of the "Great Square of Pegasus" and 2 degrees south of star ε Psc (mag. +4.3).
On July 21st, the waning crescent Moon passes 2 degrees north of Uranus.
Neptune (mag. +7.8) is moving retrograde in Aquarius as it heads towards opposition in August. Although observers may be able to spot Uranus with the naked eye they have no chance do the same with Neptune, it's far too faint. However, the planet is relatively easy to spot binoculars.
Neptune is currently located about 30 degrees southwest of the Great Square of Pegasus and just a few degrees northeast of star sigma (σ) Aqr (mag. +4.8). It rises before midnight from northern temperate latitudes and up to a couple of hours earlier from locations further south.
On July 18th, the last quarter Moon passes 5 degrees north of Neptune.
M56 is a faint distant globular cluster in Lyra positioned close to its border with Cygnus. At apparent magnitude +8.3, it's one of the dimmer Messier globulars and unlike most objects of its type lacks a bright core, resulting in it being a challenging binocular object. Nevertheless, the cluster is visible in small telescopes and amateur scopes of the order of 250mm (10-inch) will resolve some stars, despite its relatively large distance.
M56 was discovered by Charles Messier discovered on January 23, 1779. He described it as a "nebula without stars" and like many globular clusters was first resolved into stars by William Herschel five years later. Another unusual feature about this object is that it follows a retrograde orbit through the Milky Way. It has been suggested that M56 may have been acquired during the merger of a dwarf galaxy, of which Omega Centauri forms the surviving nucleus.
The globular is located almost halfway along an imaginary line connecting beautiful double star Albireo (β Cyg - mag. +3.1) with Sulafat (γ Lyr - mag. +3.3). However, since it's located in a dense part of the Milky Way it's easy to miss especially with small telescopes. Not far from M56 is the only other Messier object in Lyra, M57 the "Ring Nebula".
M76 or "The Little Dumbbell Nebula" is a planetary nebula located in Perseus. At magnitude +10.1 and spanning 2.7 x 1.8 arc minutes, its one of the faintest and smallest objects in Messier's catalogue. The nebula was discovered by Pierre Méchain on September 5, 1780 and first recognised as a planetary nebula by American astronomer Heber Doust Curtis in 1918. However, Isaac Roberts suggested it was similar to M57 (Ring Nebula) in 1891.
M76 itself looks like a miniature version of the famous Dumbbell Nebula (M27) in Vulpecula, from which it derives its name. Interestingly, it was assigned two NGC numbers - NGC 650 and 651 - since wrongly suspected of consisting of two separate emission nebulae. The structure is now classed as a bipolar planetary nebula.
The Little Dumbbell Nebula maybe faint but not difficult to locate; it's positioned just south of the prominent "W" asterism of Cassiopeia and only a degree north-northwest of Phi Persei (φ Per - mag. +4.0). It's best seen from the Northern Hemisphere during the months of October, November and December. From latitudes 40N or more it's circumpolar and hence never sets. However from southern temperate latitudes, M76 is a difficult object that never climbs high above the northern horizon.
M80 is a small but compact globular cluster located in Scorpius. It shines at magnitude +7.5 and therefore within the range of popular 7x50 or 10x50 binoculars. At its core, M80 contains a large number of "blue stragglers", stars that appear much younger than the age of the globular cluster itself! The likely reason is they have probably lost part of their cooler outer layers due to close encounters with other stars. Since M80 contains more blue stragglers than average it implies exceptionally high core stellar interaction rates.
M80 was discovered by Charles Messier on January 4, 1781. Though not conspicuous, M80 is easy to locate as its positioned just 4 degrees northwest of brilliant red supergiant star Antares (α Sco - mag. +1.0). The globular is situated halfway along an imaginary line connecting Antares with Acrab (β Sco - mag. +2.6). Located just west of Antares is magnificent globular cluster M4.
The finder chart below shows the position of M80. The globular is best seen from tropical and Southern Hemisphere latitudes during the months of May, June and July.
M79 is an intriguing eighth magnitude globular cluster located in the constellation of Lepus. At a distance of 41,000 light-years from Earth and 60,000 light-years from the Milky Way centre, it's believed to be an extragalactic globular and a native of the nearby Canis Major Dwarf galaxy. The only other extragalactic globular cluster in Messiers catalogue is M54, which belongs to the Sagittarius Dwarf Elliptical galaxy.
Unusual for globulars, M79 is located opposite the galactic center and therefore best seen during the Southern Hemisphere summer and Northern Hemisphere winter months. With a declination of -24.5 degrees south it never rises particular high above the southern horizon from northern temperate latitudes. However, it's one of the finest globulars that can be seen during this time of year.
The constellation of Lepus is located south of Orion and west of Canis Major. It contains few deep sky objects within the range of amateur scopes and M79 is the only Messier object found within its boundaries. Locating M79 is easy; its positioned 20 degrees southwest of Sirius (α CMa - mag. -1.46), the brightest star in the night sky. An imaginary line connecting Arneb (α Lep - mag. +2.6) with Nihal (β Lep - mag. +2.8) and extending southwards for about the same distance again leads to M79. About 0.5 degrees southwest of M79 lies the magnitude +5.1 double star HD 35162 (HIP 25045) with its 7th magnitude companion, separated by 3 arc minutes.
M75 (mag. +8.7) is a very distant and compact globular cluster located in eastern Sagittarius. At 67,500 light years from Earth it's one of the more remote Messier globulars and hence appears faint and small from our perspective. It's located far beyond the galactic centre (46,700 light-years) and almost on the opposite side of the galaxy to us. Despite this, M75 is intrinsically bright and on nights of good seeing and transparency can be glimpsed with a pair of 7x50 or 10x50 binoculars.
M75 was discovered by Pierre Méchain on the night of August 27, 1780. Charles Messier observed it soon after and added it to his catalogue a few weeks later. It was William Herschel who first resolved M75 into stars describing it (like M62 and M70) as a "miniature version of M3."
M75 is located right at the Sagittarius-Capricornus border. It's positioned about 23 degrees northeast of the centre of the Sagittarius "Teapot" asterism and 5.5 degrees north and a little east of a small group of four faint naked-eye stars (59 Sgr - mag. +4.5, 60 Sgr - mag. +4.8, 62 Sgr - mag. +4.4 and ω Sgr - mag. +4.7). The globular is best seen during the months of June, July and August from the Southern Hemisphere and the tropics.
Comet PanSTARRS (C/2012 K1) has been steadily brightening over the last few months and is now visible with small telescopes and large binoculars (e.g.15x70s or 20x80s). For most of June, the comet is well placed for observation in the early evening sky from the Northern Hemisphere and tropics. It's also visible from the Southern Hemisphere, but more difficult since it's lower down.
PanSTARRS was discovered on May 17, 2012 by astronomers using the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS) located on the island of Maui in Hawaii. At discovery, it's apparent magnitude was a feeble +19.7 and it was located 8.7 AU (1.3 billion kilometres or 800 million miles) from the Sun, far beyond the orbit of Jupiter and almost as distant as Saturn.
Location and star chart
PanSTARRS is currently moving in a southwestern direction. At the beginning of June, the comet shone at magnitude +8.3 and was located at the southwest corner of Ursa Major. On June 7th, PanSTARRS then crossed the border into the small faint constellation of Leo Minor where it remains until June 22nd. On this date, it enters Leo and remains there for the rest of the month. It's estimated that PanSTARRS will have brightened slightly to magnitude +8.1 during this time. This puts the comet easily within the range of small telescopes and large binoculars, although too faint to be seen with the naked eye.
For Northern Hemisphere observers, PanSTARRS appears fairly high in the sky towards the west just after sunset during the first three weeks of June. However, as the month closes in the comet will become increasingly more difficult to spot as it battles against the bright twilight sky. From equatorial regions during June, PanSTARRS is well placed but from southern temperate latitudes it always appears low down towards the northern sky.
PanSTARRS will round the Sun on August 27, 2014 (date of perihelion) after which it switches to the morning sky. It's expected to reach maximum brightness of about magnitude +6.0 in October 2014; at the limit of naked eye visibility but easily seen with 7x50 or 10x50 binoculars.
The finder chart below shows the positions of PanSTARRS from June 9 to July 27, 2014.
M105 (mag. +9.8) is an elliptical galaxy located in the constellation Leo that's visible with small telescopes. It was discovered by Pierre Méchain on March 24, 1781, which was three days before he discovered M101. However, due to unknown reasons the galaxy is one of several not included in Charles Messier's final published list. It was eventually added to the list in 1947 by Helen Sawyer Hogg, together with M106 and M107. William Herschel independently rediscovered M105 on March 11, 1784.
M105 is the brightest elliptical member of the Leo I or M96 group of galaxies. This grouping is one of many that lie within the Virgo Supercluster and includes M95, M96 and at least another 21 fainter members. M105 is located 35 Million light-years distant and is known to contain a supermassive black hole at its centre.
Galaxies M95, M96 and M105 are located in the southern section of the middle part of Leo. Imagine a line connecting Regulus (α Leo - mag. +1.4) the brightest star in Leo with Denebola (β Leo - mag. +2.1) the constellations third brightest star. Denebola is positioned about 24 degrees east and a couple of degrees north of Regulus. Located just short of half way along this line are M95, M96 and M105. The northernmost member of the trio is M105 with M96 located 50 arc minutes south of M105 and M95 positioned 40 arc minutes west of M96.
The galaxies are best seen during the months of March, April and May.
Jupiter reaches opposition on April 7, 2017
Lyrids meteor shower peaks on the night of April 21/22
This Month's Guide
Algol eclipse dates and times for April 2017
West:- Mars (mag. +1.6), Mercury (mag. -0.2 to +2.4 - first half of month)
East:- Jupiter (mag. -2.5)
South:- Saturn (mag. +0.4)
East:- Venus (mag. -4.2 to -4.7)
East:- Venus, Neptune (mag. +8.0)
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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