University Lowbrow Astronomers

Is there an easy way to tackle the Virgo Cluster during a Messier Marathon?

by Mark Deprest
March 25, 2006.

The following email was extracted from a couple of emails that I sent to Paul Walkowski and the ACNO group in answer to Paul’s question, “Is there an easy way to tackle the Virgo Cluster during a Messier Marathon?”

There are two schools of thought on the Virgo Cluster for Messier Marathons and I’ll try to explain both:

There are a couple of caveats on the method described below.

Drift Method - West to East (or The Lazy Man Method)

  1. Start with a low power / wide field eyepiece (1 degree FOV), and center on Denebola, beta Leonis.
  2. Now, wait 24 minutes ( have a cup of coffee) after 24 minutes look through the eyepiece and you should see M98
  3. Wait 6 minutes and look through the eyepiece again and you should see M99
  4. Wait 4 minutes, and now you will push your scope due north about 1 FOV or 1 degree (not you are currently facing due south so with a DOB just raise the tube up slightly. You are now looking at M100
  5. Now move your scope due north again, this time 2.5 degrees and you should see M85
  6. Here comes the first real test of your back tracking skills, move the scope back to M99 (that will be 3.5 degrees south and now 1.5 degrees west)
  7. With M99 centered, wait 12 minutes and M88 will be sliding into view.
  8. Wait 3 minutes and view M91
  9. Now you need to do just a little open field running and drop your scope (not literally) 1.25 degrees south you should find M90
  10. Now move your scope 2.5 degrees west and M86 should be in southern corner of your FOV. Center M86 and you’ll see M84 just to the west.
  11. Now move these two galaxies to the northern most corner of your FOV and wait 4 minutes and observe M87.
  12. Wait 4 minutes more and M89 will drift into view.
  13. Move M89 into the northern most corner of your FOV and wait 1.5 minutes.
  14. M58 should now be in your FOV.
  15. Wait 4 minutes and observe M59 and watch M60 drift in to view 30 seconds later.
  16. For M49 and M61 your back to star hopping and I wish you luck.

I will attempt to describe the second method in an email to come. This method works and I have used it very successfully on many occasions, give it a try and let me know how you do.

Additionally, I want to say that this first method I described can be used at anytime of night but generally works easiest when this area of the sky is near the meridian (north - south line). Because to move the scope east or west is just a matter of rotation of the azimuth bearing to the right or left and a movement of either north or south is a simple movement of the altitude bearing up or down.

Also, when you look in the eyepiece after waiting the prescribed time interval you may see a couple fainter galaxies in the same FOV with your intended Messier object, there are many galaxies in this area, generally the brightest one in the FOV is the Messier. For instance just 18 arc minutes south of M100 (a face on spiral) is NGC 4312 an 11th magnitude edge on and the area within 1 degree of M86 has at least 7 galaxies brighter than 13th magnitude plus M84. My point is know ahead of time what it is that you are looking for and at least a general idea of what it should look like, that will improve your chance of finding it a thousand fold.

With all that said, I am working on the second method of doing the Virgo Cluster but this is going to take a little time, so watch for it in the next day or two.

Carpe Nocturne - Clear Skies & Dark Nights
Mark S Deprest
Astronomical League
University Lowbrow Astronomers
Association of Lunar & Planetary Observers
American Association of Amateur Astronomers
A.L. Comet Observers Club Gold Award Recipient

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