Messier 87, Virgo A

Messier 87
Messier 87: The jet of the supermassive black hole in the center. Image taken by the Hubble space telescope in 1998 [230]
Markarjan Chain
Markarjan Chain: M 87 (bottom left) is the center Virgo galaxy cluster. Top: Markarjan Chain; TS Triplet APO 90, Reducer Photoline 0.79 (490mm / f5.44), SBIG ST-8300; 13L x 600sec 1×1, 13R, 15G, 12B 2×2 x 600sec; Bernese Highlands; © 2018 Bernhard Blank, Dragan Mihajlovic


The galaxy M 87 was discovered on May 5, 1779 by the German astronomer Johann Köhler. Charles Messier sighted them on March 18, 1781 and wrote: «Nebula without a star in Virgo, below and right next to an 8th magnitude star. The star has the same right ascension as the nebula [...] This nebula has the same brightness as nos. 84 and 86.» [196, 281]

Messier 87
Messier 87: Section of the Sloan Digitized Sky Survey. The jet can be seen in the direction of 2 o'clock. [147]

In 1918, a strange straight beam 20 arc seconds long and 2 arc seconds wide was discovered in M 87, which appeared to come from the bright core of the galaxy and was much bluer than the rest of the galaxy. In 1947 a strong radio source was discovered in the constellation Virgo and named «Virgo A». The measured position showed a correspondence with M 87. In 1953 it could be proven that the source of this radio emission was the blue jet from M 87. In the «Third Cambridge Catalog of Radio Sources» published in 1959, it has the designation 3C 274 and is the fifth most powerful radio source in the sky. In 1966 it was also discovered that M 87 and the jet were a powerful source of X-rays, the energy of which was about ten times that in the optical and radio realms. [4, 288, 289]

Physical Properties

Messier 87
Messier 87: The supermassive black hole in the center. Image taken with the Event Horizon Telescope [287]

The elliptical galaxy M 87 is 55 million light years away from us and is home to several trillion (1012) stars, a supermassive black hole of about 6.5 billion solar masses and about 15,000 globular clusters. For comparison, our Milky Way contains a few hundred billion stars and around 150 globular clusters. The monstrous galaxy M 87 is the dominant member of the neighboring Virgo galaxy cluster, which contains around 2000 galaxies.

Fig. 1 is a composite image of images in visible light and in the infrared and shows the most impressive feature of this galaxy: a jet consisting of relativistically accelerated matter originating from the central supermassive black hole in the core of M 87. In 2019, researchers succeeded thanks to the interconnection of eight radio telescopes distributed around the globe to take a photo of a black hole for the first time. Petabytes of data were processed in a supercomputer for this purpose. (Fig. 4) [215, 287]

«Catalogue of Principal Galaxies (PGC)», Paturel et al. 1989 [144]
NameRA [hms]Dec [dms]mTypeDim [']Btot [mag]HRV [km/s]PA [°]
NGC 447612 29 58.6+12 20 53L1.8 x 1.313.0192625
NGC 447812 30 17.4+12 19 44E1.8 x 1.512.41382140
NGC 4486B12 30 32.0+12 29 27C M.6 x .614.41508
NGC 4486, M 8712 30 49.6+12 23 24E8.7 x 6.69.61282
NGC 4486A12 30 57.7+12 16 11C M.8 x .713.5374
IC 344312 31 16.2+12 19 56E.4 x .415.72272
IC 345712 31 51.2+12 39 27E1.2 x .814.7
IC 345912 31 54.6+12 10 27IB1.1 x .814.8

Finder Chart

M 87 is located in the constellation Virgo on the line of the two stars Vindemiatrix (ε Virginis) and Denebola (β Leonis). The outermost Telrad circle is in the middle of the two stars. M 87 is to the east of it.

Chart M 87
Chart created using SkySafari 6 Pro and STScI Digitized Sky Survey. [149, 160]

Visual Observation

Messier 87
Messier 87: Jet of Messier 87 at 12 o'clock (zoom of original picture). EAA, roughly represents the visual impression; 30" SlipStream Dobson f/3.3 + Canon EOS R; 20s @ ISO 12800; Hasliberg; © 1. 6. 2019 Eduard von Bergen

762 mm aperture: Using EAA (Electronically Assisted Astronomy): The jet in the Messier 87 galaxy could only be seen on a Canon EOS R by means of strong zooming in the live photo. Seldom have we been able to experience such good transparency and calmness.

— 1. 6. 2019, Eduard von Bergen


4«Burnham's Celestial Handbook: An Observer's Guide to the Universe Beyond the Solar System» by Robert Burnham; Dover Publications, Inc.; Voume I: ISBN 0-486-23567-X; Volume II: ISBN 0-486-23568-8; Volume III: ISBN 0-486-23673-0
144Catalogue of Principal Galaxies (PGC); Paturel G., Fouque P., Bottinelli L., Gouguenheim L.; Astron. Astrophys. Suppl. Ser. 80, 299 (1989); (2021-02-18)
147Aladin Lite; (2020-12-23)
149SkySafari 6 Pro, Simulation Curriculum;
160The STScI Digitized Sky Survey;
196Celestial Atlas by Curtney Seligman; (2020-12-28)
215Explore - The Night Sky | Hubble’s Messier Catalog; (2020-12-31)
230Black Hole-Powered Jet Of Electrons And Sub-Atomic Particles Streams From Center Of Galaxy M87; (2021-01-17)
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)
287Press Release (April 10, 2019): Astronomers Capture First Image of a Black Hole; (2021-03-01)
288«Galactic Radiation at Radio Frequencies. II. The Discrete Sources» Stanley, G. J. & Slee, O. B.; Australian Journal of Scientific Research A Physical Sciences, vol. 3, p. 234; 1950AuSRA...3..234S; DOI:10.1071/PH500234; Bibcode:1950AuSRA...3..234S
289«On the Identification of Radio Sources.» Baade, W.; Minkowski, R.; Astrophysical Journal, vol. 119, p.215; January 1954; DOI:10.1086/145813; Bibcode:1954ApJ...119..215B