Galaxy Messier 61

Messier 61
Messier 61: Galaxy in Virgo; 500 mm Cassegrain 3625 mm f/7.2; SBIG STL11K; 110+30+30+30 min LRGB; Bernese Highland; © 2011 Radek Chromik


The galaxy Messier 61 was discovered by the Italian astronomer Barnaba Oriani in 1779. Charles Messier noticed it the same night as Oriani, but suspected it was a passing comet. He wrote: «Very faint nebula and difficult to see. M. Messier believed this nebula to be the comet of 1779, May 5th, 6th and 11th; on the 11th he realized that he was not the comet, but a nebula that was on his route at the same point in the sky.» [281]

Physical Properties

Messier 61
Messier 61: Image of the central region taken with the Hubble Space Telescope. Combination of data from 2003 and 2004. [191]

M 61 is a spiral galaxy of the morphological type Sc(dSc). At Simbad, measured heliocentric velocities in the last 20 years have been found in the range from 1566 km/s to 1579 km/s and measured distances from 10 Mpc to 19 Mpc (32 to 62 million light years). The galaxy belongs to the Virgo Galaxy Cluster (VCC 508), to which about 1300 galaxies belong. With a diameter of around 100'000 light years, it is about the same size as our Milky Way. M 61 is known as a starburst galaxy (Seyfert Type 2), which has a high rate of star formation and thus uses up its gas in (astronomically) a relatively short time. At least six supernovae have been observed in this galaxy so far. There is a strong X-ray source in the center. [145, 189, 190]

«Catalogue of Principal Galaxies (PGC)», Paturel et al. 1989 [144]
DesignationsPGC 40001: NGC 4303, UGC 7420, MCG 1-32-22, M 61, CGCG 42-45, VCC 508
Right Ascension (J2000.0)12h 21m 54.6s
Declination (J2000.0)+04° 28' 20"
Morphological TypeSBR
Dimensions6.5' x 5.9'
Visual Magnitude10.1 mag
Radial Velocity (HRV)1569 km/s
Position Angle°

Further Galaxies in that Area

NGC 4292
NGC 4292: Section of the Sloan Digitized Sky Survey [147]

The galaxy NGC 4292 was discovered by John Herschel on April 7, 1828. The morphological type at Simbad is S0a-S0/Sa (i.e. lens-shaped) with a LINER-type active core. At NED it is given as (R)SB(r)0^0 (bar spiral with ring). The redshifts measured over the past 20 years correspond to a heliocentric speed of about 2260 km/s. The distance is about 17 Mpc to 20 Mpc (55 to 65 million light years). The galaxy is listed as a member of the Virgo Cluster with the number VCC 462. [145, 196]

«Catalogue of Principal Galaxies (PGC)», Paturel et al. 1989 [144]
DesignationsPGC 39922: NGC 4292, UGC 7404, MCG 1-32-16, CGCG 42-40, VCC 462
Right Ascension (J2000.0)12h 21m 16.3s
Declination (J2000.0)+04° 35' 47"
Morphological TypeSB
Dimensions1.6' x 1.2'
Visual Magnitude13.3 mag
Radial Velocity (HRV)2258 km/s
Position Angle
NGC 4301
NGC 4301: Section of the Sloan Digitized Sky Survey [147]

The galaxy NGC 4301 was discovered on April 21, 1851 by the Irish engineer Bindon Stoney. He worked for William Parsons, 3rd Earl of Rosse, and helped him with the mechanical construction of his telescopes. The galaxy is sometimes called NGC 4303A because it is close to NGC 4303 and has long been considered misidentified. According to Simbad, the galaxy is of the morphological type Sc(dSc). Measurements of redshift over the last 20 years are in the range 1278 km/s to 1296 km/s and measured distances range from 13 Mpc to 17 Mpc. (42 to 55 million light years). [145, 196]

«Catalogue of Principal Galaxies (PGC)», Paturel et al. 1989 [144]
DesignationsPGC 39951: NGC 4301, UGC 7411, MCG 1-32-19, CGCG 42-42, VCC 482
Right Ascension (J2000.0)12h 21m 33.3s
Declination (J2000.0)+04° 46' 46"
Morphological TypeS
Dimensions1.3' x .4'
Visual Magnitude14.8 mag
Radial Velocity (HRV) km/s
Position Angle132°

Finder Chart

In the constellation Virgo, a little outside the Virgo Cluster, the spiral galaxy M61 can be found almost alone, about halfway between the stars Auva (δ Virginis, 3.42 mag) and ν Virginis (4.03 mag). There are two weaker galaxies NGC 4292 and NGC 4301 in the immediate vicinity.

Chart Messier 61
Chart created using SkySafari 6 Pro and STScI Digitized Sky Survey. [149, 160]

Visual Observation

M 61
M 61: Pencil drawing; 14" PWO-Dobson f/4.6, TV-Radian 8 mm, 200x, 0.3°, D: 6.7, air: qiet; Honegg 1460m; © 20. 5. 2004, 01:00 Eduard von Bergen

In contrast to most of the siblings in the Virgo Cluster, the galaxy shows some structure in medium-sized telescopes. The striking, somewhat extended core is striking. The two spiral arms are individually recognizable. One arm is also clearly longer and shows differences in brightness. A medium-sized enlargement is advantageous for observation, in which the sky background is already neatly darkened to black. [192]

14" PWO-Dobson, F:4.6 / TV-Radian 8mm, 200x, 0.3°
Eduard von Bergen


144Catalogue of Principal Galaxies (PGC); Paturel G., Fouque P., Bottinelli L., Gouguenheim L.; Astron. Astrophys. Suppl. Ser. 80, 299 (1989); (2021-02-18)
145SIMBAD astronomical database;
147Aladin Lite; (2020-12-23)
149SkySafari 6 Pro, Simulation Curriculum;
160The STScI Digitized Sky Survey;
189Messier 61 looks straight into the camera; (2020-12-24)
190Hubbles Messier Catalog: Messier 61; (2020-12-24)
191A hungry starburst galaxy; (2020-12-24)
192Deep-Sky Guide; (2020-12-25)
196Celestial Atlas by Curtney Seligman; (2020-12-28)
281«Catalogue Nébuleuses et des Amas D'Étoiles» Observées à Paris, par M. Messier, à l'Observatoire de la Marine, hôtel de Clugni, rue des Mathurins. «Connoissance des temps ou connoissance des mouvements célestes, pour l'année bissextile 1784 » Page 227; (2021-02-21)