From Ursa Major to Virgo: A Galaxy Quest

Leading into tonight and after nearly 2 years, I had observed 71 of the Messier objects. The remaining 39 objects consisted of 3 Nebulae, 3 Open Clusters, 7 Globular Clusters and 26 Galaxies. It is those last galaxies that give me the biggest mental roadblock and there is no cluster of galaxies more daunting than those in the Constellation Virgo.

8:45 PM to 9:25 PM: Failure in Ursa Major
The evening was originally going to consist of objects in and around Ursa Major. I had a list of 6 targets planned but seeing conditions and light pollution only allowed me to view M106 in Canes Venatici. No other object would show a hint of detail. Frustrated, I noticed that most of Virgo had risen above my neighbors tree. I had not been planned on jumping into this daunting region of galaxies tonight, but thought it was worth a shot.

9:35 PM to 10:45 PM: A Surprisingly Pleasant Trek through Virgo
Starting in the northern portion of Virgo led to initial discouragement with objects such as M96, M85 and others not showing up. At this point, I was starting to become frustrated. Of the 10 objects I had attempted to observe thus far only 1 had been visible. For all others, the star patterns matched perfectly with my charts but where the galaxy should have been a dark void existed. At this point, I’m thinking I will have to go off site to darker skies for more Messier objects than I had bargained for.

I decided to give a few more attempts before calling it a night but this time started from the southern point of Virgo. To my surprise, two galaxies, M59 and M60 appeared in the eyepiece. Moving up Virgo, I used M89 as a central point to jump to M90 and M58. Star hopping took me to M87 and then up to Markarian’s Chain, M84 and M86. One final sweep through Virgo revealed M88. With Ursa Major a bit higher in the sky and observing conditions improved, I moved back over and was able to catch M102 before concluding the night.

Galaxies such as M88 and M90 at +9.36 magnitude were pushing the limit of what I was comfortable verifying as observable targets through my skies. Using 96x magnification and averted vision helped with these observations. Others such as M87 were surprisingly easy to view. Depending on the size and surface brightness of the object it appears the limits of my sky and telescope are around +9.5 magnitude. What I thought would be a nice evening in Ursa Major ended up being a surprisingly productive evening in Virgo. It appears I’ve overcome my Virgo phobia.

11 more down…28 to go…