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 night but mistakenly thought he had seen a comet! A few days later he realised his mistake.

M61 is a reasonably large galaxy with a diameter of 100,000 light-years, which is similar to that of the Milky Way. It has an apparent size of 6.5 x 5.9 arc minutes and is located 52.5 million light-years away. The galaxy appears visually compact and is one of the finest "small" barred spiral galaxies in the sky.

M61 is located 8 degrees northwest of binary star Porrima (γ Vir - mag. +2.7) and 1.25 degrees north-northeast of 16 Vir (mag. +5.0). It's best seen during the months of March, April and May.

M61 galaxy (credit:- Mike Herbaut/ESA/ESO/NASA)

Finder Chart for M61 (credit:- freestarcharts)

Finder Chart for M61 - pdf format (credit:- freestarcharts)

On dark nights, M61 can be spotted with small scopes as a faint patch of light. Through a 200mm (8-inch) instrument, it appears small with a stellar like core surrounded by a faint halo. Larger scopes of the order of 300mm (12-inch) or greater display the structure in intricate detail, with the delicate spiral arms visible surrounding a bright and well-defined nucleus.

M61 is classified as a starburst galaxy due to the high rates of star formation across its disk. This may be because of interactions with nearby satellite galaxies, NGC 4292 and NGC 4303B. It's also a good galaxy for supernovae hunters. To date, seven have been observed, with the brightest reaching magnitude +12 in 1964.

M61 Data Table

Object TypeSpiral galaxy
ClassificationSAB(rs) bc
Distance (light-years)52.5 Million
Apparent Mag.+9.9
RA (J2000)12h 21m 55s
DEC (J2000)+04d 28m 24s
Apparent Size (arc mins)6.5 x 5.9
Radius (light-years)50,000
Number of Stars>300 Billion
Notable FeatureMember of the Virgo cluster of galaxies

Sky Highlights - July 2017

The Planets
This Month's Guide

Algol Minima
Algol eclipse dates and times for July

Meteor Shower
Southern Delta Aquariids (Aquarids) meteor shower peaks on July 29

Northern Hemisphere
West:- Mercury (mag. -0.5 to +0.3) (second half of month)
Southwest:- Jupiter (mag. -2.0)
South:- Saturn (mag. +0.2)
West:- Jupiter
South:- Saturn
East:- Neptune (mag. +7.8)
Southwest:- Saturn
South:- Neptune
Southeast:- Uranus (mag. +5.8)
East:- Venus (mag. -4.1)

Southern Hemisphere
West:- Mercury (second half of month)
Northwest:- Jupiter
East:- Saturn
West:- Jupiter
North:- Saturn
East:- Neptune
West:- Saturn
North:- Neptune
Northeast:- Venus, Uranus

Deep Sky

Small telescopes:-
Messier 13 - M13 - Great Hercules Globular Cluster
Messier 92 - M92 - Globular Cluster
Messier 11 - M11 - The Wild Duck Cluster (Open Cluster)
Messier 7 - M7 - The Ptolemy Cluster (Open Cluster)
Messier 6 - M6 - The Butterfly Cluster (Open Cluster)
Messier 4 - M4 - Globular Cluster
Messier 8 - M8 - Lagoon Nebula (Emission Nebula)
Messier 16 - M16 - Eagle Nebula (Emission Nebula with Open Cluster)
Messier 20 - M20 - Trifid Nebula (Emission and Reflection Nebula)

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