M98, mag. +10.4, is a large beautiful edge-on spiral galaxy that's located in the southern section of the constellation of Coma Berenices. It's one of the fainter Messier objects and to spot it a medium sized amateur telescope or greater is recommended. The 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 three.
M98 is one of a small group of galaxies that are blueshifted. The vast majority of galaxies are receding from us and display redshifts but due to the movement of M98 within the Virgo cluster, it's currently falling towards us, hence the blueshift. The galaxy is located about 57 Million light-years distant 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 1 trillion stars.
Pinpointing the area of sky where M98 is located is easy. It's located 6 degrees east of Denebola (β Leo - mag. +2.1) the third brightest star in Leo. The star 6 Com (mag. +5.1) lies 0.5 degree east of M98 and acts as a perfect marker.
The Virgo cluster galaxies are best seen during the months of March, April and May.
M98 is one of the more difficult Virgo cluster Messier galaxies. Through a 200m (8-inch) scope 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 there is a small amount of light pollution present. For the same reason, it does not take high magnification well. Larger backyard telescopes reveal a slightly curved structure that's brighter on the southern side with a greenish tinge and a distinct nucleus.
About 750 million years ago, M98 may have interacted with the large spiral galaxy NGC 4254. Today, they are separated by a distance of about 1.3 million light-years.
M98 Data Table
|Object Type||Spiral galaxy|
|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|