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M49 is an elliptical galaxy located in the constellation of Virgo. It belongs to the Virgo cluster of galaxies, a large group of galaxies centered about 54 Million light-years from Earth. With an apparent magnitude of +8.4, M49 is the brightest member of this famous cluster. It's best seen during the months of March, April and May.

This galaxy was discovered by Charles Messier on February 19, 1771. He also discovered M46 and M48 on the same night and re-discovered M47, which was originally found by Giovanni Batista Hodierna sometime before 1654. After M83, M49 was the second galaxy discovered beyond the Local Group and the first member of the Virgo cluster to be found.

To locate M49, first imagine a line connecting Denebola (β Leo - mag. +2.1) with Vindemiatrix (ε Vir - mag. +2.8). The centre of the Virgo cluster is positioned about halfway along this line and M49 is located about 5 degrees south of this point.

M49 galaxy by the Hubble Space Telescope (credit:- NASA, The Hubble Heritage Team (AURA/STScI))

Finder Chart for M49 (credit:- freestarcharts)

Finder Chart for M49 - pdf format (credit:- freestarcharts)

Finder Chart for M61 (also shown M49 and M104) (credit:- freestarcharts)

Finder Chart for M61 (also shown M49 and M104) - pdf format (credit:- freestarcharts)

M49 a fine example of an elliptical galaxy and along with M60 and M87, is one of the great giant elliptical galaxies of the Virgo cluster. These galaxies are all large and massive. M49 has an apparent size of 10 x 8 arc minutes, which at a distance of 58 million light-years corresponds to an actual diameter of 170,000 light-years. For comparison, M31 has a diameter of 140,000 light-years and our Milky Way galaxy, 100,000 light-years. It's estimated that M49 contains at least 200 billion stars.

Large 15x70 or 20x80 binoculars show M49 as a small faint fuzzy patch of light that's non-stellar in appearance. Through 100mm (4-inch) telescopes, the galaxy appears small and diffuse with a bright compressed central core. Larger scopes do better, a 200mm (8-inch) aperture instrument shows the bright centre with a large, but featureless halo, surrounding it.

Only one supernova, SN 1969Q in June 1969, has been observed within M49. Slightly unusual is that the galaxy has the physical form of a radio galaxy, but its radio emissions are only of the levels of a normal galaxy. M49 also has a large collection of globular clusters, estimated at about 5,900. For comparison, the Milky Way has only about 150, but even the number for M49 is dwarfed by M87, which contains in excess of 13,400.

M49 Data Table

Object TypeElliptical galaxy
Distance (light-years)58 Million
Apparent Mag.+8.4
RA (J2000)12h 29m 47s
DEC (J2000)08d 00m 00s
Apparent Size (arc mins)10.2 x 8.3
Radius (light-years)85,000
Number of Stars>200 Billion
Notable FeatureOnly Supernova observed within this galaxy is SN 1969Q