Ask a seasoned stargazer to name one of their favourite spring galaxies to observe and chances are it’ll be located in Virgo. The constellation boasts an extraordinary array of galactic treasures, including some of the most famous in the sky. It’s perhaps no surprise then that many of the galaxies crowding into this part of the heavens are associated, that is they’re all part of an enormous – and in cosmic terms relatively nearby – grouping known as the Virgo Galaxy Cluster. Recent surveys suggest that there are some 1,900 galaxies in this cluster, which sits roughly 56 million lightyears from the Milky Way.
The cluster counts within its number many relatively bright galaxies that are familiar to amateur astronomers – for example M87 as well as M86, M84 and the others that make up the sweeping curve of galaxies known as Markarian’s Chain. The heart of the cluster itself lies in the region around 6° west of the star Vindemiatrix (Epsilon Virginis). However, modern studies have shown that there are members of the cluster spread all over this patch of sky, with some in neighbouring constellations of Coma Berenices and Leo too.
The string of galaxies known as Markarian’s Chain can be seen through small telescopes