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.

M60 galaxy by the Hubble Space Telescope (NASA, The Hubble Heritage Team (AURA/STScI))

Finder Chart for M60 (also shown M49, M53, M58, M59, M64->M66, M84->M91 and M98->M100)

Finder Chart for M60 (also shown M49, M53, M58, M59, M64->M66, M84->M91 and M98->M100) - pdf format

Through a small 80mm (3.1-inch) telescope M60 appears as a fuzzy patch of light that's slightly brighter towards the core. It's marginally brighter and larger but otherwise rather similar in appearance to M59. When viewed through a 200mm (8-inch) scope, M60 is better seen, appearing diffuse with a bright nucleus but not a lot more detail apparent. On good nights, also visible is NGC 4647 (mag. +11.4) a small elliptical galaxy companion galaxy that lies 4 arc minutes northwest of M60 and in the same field of view.

The central black hole of M60 is 4.5 billion solar masses, one of the largest ever found. To date, only one supernova (SN 2004W) has been observed in the galaxy.

M60 Data Table

Messier60
NGC4649
Object TypeElliptical galaxy
ClassificationE2
ConstellationVirgo
Distance (kly)55,000
Apparent Mag.9.2
RA (J2000)12h 43m 40s
DEC (J2000)11d 33m 07s
Apparent Size (arc mins)7.6 x 6.2
Radius (light-years)60,000
Number of Stars400 Billion
Notable FeatureCentral black hole of 4.5 billion solar masses is one of the largest ever found.

Sky Highlights - April 2017

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