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 cluster. Only M49 (mag. +8.4) and M87 (mag. +8.7) appear more luminous. 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 in the same part of the sky was Charles Messier, who independently found both M59 and M60 four days later. During his search, Messier discovered another Virgo cluster galaxy (M58) that was missed by Koehler. Of the three galaxies, Messier described M60 as the brightest with M59 and M58 fainter but 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). M60 is about 4.5 degrees along this line, with M59 positioned 0.4 degrees west of M60. Move another degree further west to arrive 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.
Through a small 80mm (3.1-inch) telescope, M60 appears as a fuzzy patch of light that's brighter towards the core. It's slightly larger and brighter than M59, but otherwise rather similar in appearance. M60 is better seen through 200mm (8-inch) or larger scopes where it appears diffuse with a bright nucleus. On good nights also visible in the same field of view is NGC 4647 (mag. +11.4), a small elliptical companion galaxy, that lies 4 arc minutes northwest of M60.
M60 Data Table
|Object Type||Elliptical galaxy|
|Distance (light-years)||55 Million|
|RA (J2000)||12h 43m 40s|
|DEC (J2000)||+11d 33m 07s|
|Apparent Size (arc mins)||7.6 x 6.2|
|Number of Stars||400 Billion|
|Notable Feature||Central black hole of 4.5 billion solar masses is one of the largest ever found.|