M98, mag. +10.4, is an edge-on spiral galaxy located in the southern section of the constellation of Coma Berenices. It's one of the faintest Messier objects and at least a medium size telescope is recommended to spot it. This 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 trio.
M98 is one of a small number of galaxies that are blueshifted. The vast majority of galaxies are receding from us and display redshifts. However, due to the movement of M98 within the Virgo cluster it's currently falling towards us and hence the blueshift. The galaxy is located 57 Million light-years away 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 a trillion stars.
Pinpointing the area of sky where M98 is located is easy. It's positioned 6 degrees east of the third brightest star in Leo, Denebola (β Leo - mag. +2.1). The star 6 Comae Berenices (mag. +5.1) lies 0.5 degrees east of M98 and acts as a perfect marker.
M98 is one of the more difficult Messier galaxies in the Virgo cluster. Through 200m (8-inch) scopes, it appears as a faint thin diffuse streak of light with a brighter core. The surface brightness of the galaxy is low, hence it's a tricky object to spot especially when a small amount of light pollution is present. For the same reason, it does not take high magnification well. Larger backyard reflectors reveal a slightly curved structure that's brighter on the southern side. It has a greenish tinge and a distinct nucleus.
About 750 million years ago, M98 may have interacted with the large spiral galaxy NGC 4254. A distance of about 1.3 million light-years spatially separates them today.
The Virgo cluster galaxies are best seen during the months of March, April and May.
M98 Data Table
|Object Type||Spiral galaxy|
|Distance (light-years)||57 Million|
|RA (J2000)||12h 13m 48s|
|DEC (J2000)||+14d 54m 00s|
|Apparent Size (arc mins)||9.8 x 2.8|
|Number of Stars||1 Trillion|
|Notable Feature||Member of the Virgo Cluster of galaxies|