M87 - Virgo A
Credits: Chris Mihos (Case Western Reserve University)/ESO
Messier 87 (M87), also known as Virgo A or the Smoking Gun, is a supergiant elliptical galaxy located in the core of the Virgo Cluster, in the southern constellation Virgo.
The galaxy has an apparent magnitude of 9.59 and lies at a distance of 53.5 million light years from Earth. It has the designation NGC 4486 in the New General Catalogue.
M87 can be observed in small and medium-sized telescopes. These reveal the galaxy’s core, which is about 45 arc seconds in apparent size. The jet emanating from the nucleus of M87 is difficult to see without photographic equipment.
In 10×50 binoculars, M87 appears only as a faint patch of light. Small telescopes show a fuzzy ball of light, elliptical in shape, with a slightly brighter centre. Being an elliptical galaxy, Virgo A appears mostly featureless even when seen in larger telescopes.
Facts about M87 by Keith Turnecliff
Messier 87 is one of the largest, most massive and most luminous galaxies in the local universe.
It has an estimated mass of almost 2.7 trillion solar masses and an absolute magnitude of about -22. The galaxy is home to at least 1 trillion stars.
The stars form only a fraction of the galaxy’s mass. M87 has an estimated mass to luminosity ratio of 6.3, which means that about one sixth of M87’s mass is in the form of stars.
The total mass of the galaxy may be 200 times that of the Milky Way, even if the galaxies are similar in size.
The best time of year to observe M87 and other galaxies in the Virgo Cluster is during the spring.