M98, mag. +10.4, is a large beautiful edge-on spiral galaxy that's located in the southern section of the constellation of Coma Berenices. It's one of the fainter Messier objects and a medium sized amateur telescope or greater is recommended. The galaxy is a member of the Virgo cluster and was discovered by Pierre Mechain on March 15, 1781. On the same night he also discovered M99 and M100. Messier catalogued them shortly afterwards and remarked that M98 was the faintest of the three.
M98 is one of a small group of galaxies that are blueshifted. The vast majority of galaxies are receding from us and display redshifts but due to the movement of M98 within the Virgo cluster, it's currently falling towards us, hence the blueshift. The galaxy is located about 57 Million light-years distant and has an apparent size of 9.8 x 2.8 arc minutes. This corresponds to an actual diameter of 160,000 light-years. It's estimated to contain 1 trillion stars.
Pinpointing the area of sky where M98 is located is easy. It's located 6 degrees east of Denebola (β Leo - mag. +2.1) the third brightest star in Leo. The star 6 Com (mag. +5.1) lies 0.5 degree east of M98 and acts as a perfect marker.
The Virgo cluster galaxies are best seen during the months of March, April and May.
M102 is a galaxy catalogued by Charles Messier that hasn't been explicitly identified. It was Pierre Mechain who made the original observation in March 1781 before passing the information onto Messier, who catalogued it without verification. However, Mechain himself believed M102 was an error and wrote a letter on the May 6, 1783 expressing his view that the object was in fact a duplicate entry of M101. The story does not end there, historical evidence based on Messier description of the galaxy combined with its co-ordinates suggest that M102 could well be lenticular galaxy NGC 5866, also known as the Spindle galaxy. A number of other possible candidates have been suggested but it seems both Messier and Mechain have observed NGC 5866 in the past and therefore we list it as the missing item.
The Spindle galaxy (mag. +9.9) is located at the southern edge of the far northern constellation of Draco. It's positioned four degrees southwest of star Iota Draconis (ι Dra - mag. +3.3). Directly west of NGC 5866 are the seven stars that form the famous "Plough" or "Big Dipper" asterism of Ursa Major.
NGC 5866 is a challenging binocular object but easier to spot with small scopes. It's best seen from the Northern Hemisphere during the months of April, May and June. From latitudes of 35N or greater, the galaxy is circumpolar and therefore never sets.
M86 is a giant lenticular or elliptical galaxy located in Virgo that's one of the brighter galaxies in the Virgo cluster (mag. +9.3). It lies at the heart of the grouping and forms a conspicuous pair with close neighbour and almost twin, M84. Through a medium sized scope, M86 appears as a bright, elongated patch of light. Also visible in the same low/medium power eyepiece field of view is M84.
It's currently not 100% certain what type of galaxy M86 is, it could be either a type S0 lenticular galaxy or an elliptical galaxy of type E3. The galaxy is unusual in that it's blue shifted and hence moving towards the Milky Way. Due to the expansion of the Universe most galaxies are receding and show redshifts. However, M86 is falling towards the centre of the Virgo cluster, causing it to move towards us at a speed of 244 km/s. This resulting blueshift is the highest of all Messier objects.
M86 was discovered by Charles Messier on March 18, 1781. This was an extremely productive night for Messier since he also discovered another seven Virgo cluster members and rediscovered globular cluster M92 in Hercules. The galaxy has an apparent diameter of 8.9 x 5.8 arc minutes and at a distance of 52 million light-years this corresponds to a spatial diameter of 135,000 light-years. It's estimated to contain at least 400 billion stars.
M86 is positioned close to the Virgo-Coma Berenices constellation border and can be found by imagining a line connecting Denebola (β Leo - mag. +2.1) with Vindemiatrix (ε Vir - mag. +2.8). Towards the centre of this line is M86 and positioned 17 arc minutes west of M86 is M84.
The galaxies are best seen during the months of March, April and May.
M60 is an elliptical galaxy and a member of the Virgo cluster of galaxies. With an apparent magnitude of +9.2 it's the third brightest of the giant elliptical galaxies in the Virgo cluster. Only M49 (mag. +8.4) and M87 (mag. +8.7) appear more luminous from our perspective. M60 is visible with small scopes or large binoculars, but as with most galaxies it's better seen with greater aperture.
On April 11, 1779 while comet chasing, Johann Gottfried Koehler discovered M60 together with its slightly smaller and fainter neighbour M59. Also searching around the same time and the same part of the sky was none other than Charles Messier, who independently found both M59 and M60 four days after Koehler. During his search, Messier also discovered M58, another nearby Virgo cluster galaxy that was missed by Koehler. Of the three galaxies, Messier described M60 as the brightest with M59 and M58 being fainter and of similar magnitude.
Locating M60 is relatively easy. Start by imagining a line from Vindemiatrix (ε Vir - mag. +2.8) heading in the direction of Denebola (β Leo - mag. +2.1). About 4.5 degrees along this line is M60 with M59 positioned 0.4 degrees west of M60. Moving another degree in the same westerly direction arrives at M58.
M60 is estimated to lie 55 million light-years from Earth. It spans 7.6 x 6.2 arc minutes of apparent sky, which corresponds to a spatial diameter of 120,000 light-years. The galaxy contains about 400 billion stars and is best seen during the months of March, April and May.
M17 also known as the Omega Nebula is a bright emission nebula located in the rich Milky Way star fields of Sagittarius. It's a H II star formation region that shines with an apparent magnitude of +6.0, placing it at the limit of naked eye visibility. Through binoculars, M17 appears as a diffuse patch of light that's oval shaped. In the same field of view to the south are open cluster M18 (mag. +7.5) and the very large Sagittarius Star Cloud (M24 - mag. +4.6).
The Omega Nebula is located 5,500 light-years from Earth. Embedded within it is an open cluster of at least 35 stars that provides the source of the glowing gas. In many similar nebulae such stars are relatively easily visible, but not so in the case of M17. They are hidden deep within the structure and are not obvious. In total, there are many hundreds of stars contained in the nebula itself.
M17 was discovered by Philippe Loys de Chéseaux sometime between 1745-46. Charles Messier independently rediscovered it on June 3, 1764. The nebula covers 20x15 arc minutes of apparent sky, which corresponds to an actual diameter of 32 light-years. It's also sometimes referred to as the Swan Nebula, Horseshoe Nebula, Checkmark Nebula or Lobster Nebula.
The Omega Nebula is positioned at the very north of Sagittarius, close to the Serpens Cauda and Scutum constellation boundaries. It's located about 15 degrees north of the "teapot" asterism of Sagittarius. A couple of degrees south of M18 is M24 with M17 sandwiched between them. The star γ Sct (mag. +4.7) lies 2 degrees northeast of M17 with M16 the Eagle Nebula located 2.5 degrees west of this star.
The objects are best seen from southern and equatorial regions during the months of June, July and August.
Comet Jacques is now gradually fading in brightness but is currently superbly placed for observation from Northern Hemisphere latitudes. The comet started August in Auriga and at magnitude +6.7 was easily within binocular and small telescope range. Through the eyepiece it displayed a bright condensed coma with a short tail.
Location and star chart
Jacques is currently continuing on its northwesterly path and moved into Perseus on August 5th where it remains until the 15th. On this date, the comet passes into the faint constellation of Camelopardalis and is expected to have faded slightly to magnitude +6.8. It then moves into Cassiopeia on August 19th before crossing into Cepheus on August 27th, where it stays for the remainder of the month.
From northern latitudes, the comet is visible during August high in the sky towards the east in the early hours of the morning. The visibility improves as the month progresses. From latitudes of 40N or greater, Jacques is circumpolar during the second half of August, hence never setting. It should remain within binocular range although by months end is expected to have faded to magnitude +7.4
From Southern Hemisphere latitudes, the comet won't be visible again until early September. The finder chart below shows the positions of Jacques from August 11 to August 22, 2014.
M85 is a lenticular galaxy or an elliptical galaxy located in Coma Berenices that's a member of the Virgo cluster of galaxies. At magnitude +9.5 and covering 7.1 x 5.5 arc minutes it's similar in brightness and size to another Virgo cluster galaxy, M84. Spotting M85 with 7x50 or 10x50 binoculars is challenging due to its faintness, requiring good transparency and dark skies. A small 80mm (3.1-inch) scope shows a featureless ball of fuzz with a slightly brighter core. The view through amateur scopes in no way reflects the true nature of this distant enormous galaxy. It's located 60 million light years away making it one of the more remote objects in the Messier catalogue. The actual diameter of M85 is 125,000 light-years and is estimated to contain 400 billion stars. Long classified as a lenticular galaxy of type S0, recent observations of M85 have suggested that it could be an elliptical galaxy of type E1.
Pierre Méchain discovered M85 on March 4, 1781. He reported it to his friend Charles Messier who subsequently catalogued it on March 18, 1781. On the same night Messier discovered another seven galaxies, all of them Virgo Cluster members and also re-discovered bright globular cluster M92.
The main crux of the Virgo cluster lies about halfway along an imaginary line connecting Denebola (β Leo - mag. +2.1) and Vindemiatrix (ε Vir - mag. +2.8), where most of the galaxies can be found. However, M85 is located at the very northern edge of the Virgo cluster, some 6 degrees northwest of the group centre and one degree northeast of star 11 Com (mag. +4.7).
It's best seen during the months of March, April and May.
M24 also known as the Sagittarius Star Cloud is a large naked eye expanse of stars, clusters, nebulosity and other objects located in Sagittarius. At apparent magnitude +4.6 and covering 1.5 degrees of sky it's visible to the naked eye as a large detached part of the Milky Way. The object is a fantastic sight in binoculars or small telescopes; it's claimed that M24 has the densest concentration of individual stars visible using binoculars, around 1,000 stars within a single field of view. Spatially, M24 covers a volume of space up to 16,000 light years deep and was discovered by Charles Messier on June 20, 1764. It's best seen during the months of June, July and August from southern or equatorial latitudes.
The Sagittarius Star Cloud is not a "true" deep sky object but results from a chance alignment between the Earth and the centre of our galaxy. We would expect this region to be packed with interstellar dust, however by chance we are looking through a "tunnel" in the interstellar dust, revealing many thousands of distant stars, clusters and nebulae that would otherwise be obscured.
M24 can be found 7 degrees north and a little west of Kaus Borealis (λ Sgr - mag. +2.8) the top star of the bright "teapot" asterism of Sagittarius. Positioned north of M24 is open cluster M18 and the Omega Nebula (M17) with all three objects visible in the same binocular field of view. Open clusters M23 and M25 are located a few degrees west and east of M24 respectively.
M61, mag. +9.9, is a face-on barred spiral galaxy that belongs to the Virgo cluster of galaxies. It was discovered by Barnabus Oriani while comet chasing on May 5, 1779. Ironically, Charles Messier observed M61 on the same day but mistakenly though he had seen a comet! A few days later he realised his mistake.
M61 is reasonably large galaxy with a diameter of 100,000 light-years, similar to own Milky Way. It has an apparent size of 6.5 x 5.9 arc minutes and is located 52.5 million light-years distant. The galaxy appears visually compact and is one of the finest "small" barred spiral galaxies in the sky for large backyard scopes.
It's located 8 degrees northwest of binary star Porrima (γ Vir - mag. +2.7), 1.25 degrees north-northeast of 16 Vir (mag. +5.0) and best seen during the months of March, April and May.
M64 is a beautiful spiral galaxy known as the Black Eye Galaxy due to a spectacular dark band of absorbing dust in front of the nucleus, resulting in a smudged appearance. With an apparent magnitude of +8.8, it can be glimpsed with good binoculars on dark nights, appearing as a faint slightly irregular patch of light.
The Black Eye Galaxy is located in the constellation of Coma Berenices and was discovered by English astronomer Edward Pigott on March 23, 1779. Twelve days later Johann Elert Bode independently found it and Charles Messier adding it to his catalogue on March 1, 1780. The dark dust feature was discovered by William Herschel in 1785, comparing it to a black eye.
It's located 5 degrees northwest of Diadem (α Com - mag. +4.3) on an imaginary line connecting stars, 35 Com (mag. +4.9) and 40 Com (mag. +5.5), with M64 positioned one degree northeast of 35 Com. Arcturus, the brightest star in the northern section of the sky and fourth brightest overall is located 19 degrees east and a little south of M64.
The galaxy is 24 Million light-years distant and has an apparent size of 10.0 x 5.4 arc minutes, which corresponds to an actual linear diameter of 70,000 light-years. It's estimated to contain 100 billion stars and is best seen from northern latitudes during the months of March, April and May.
M84 is a magnitude +9.4 lenticular or elliptical galaxy that belongs to the Virgo cluster of galaxies. Although one of the brighter members of the famous cluster, it's challenging to spot with popular 7x50 or 10x50 binoculars. Larger binoculars such as 20x80s or small telescopes make the task easier but as with most galaxies, dark skies are important. It's currently not clear what type of galaxy M84 is, it could either be a lenticular galaxy of type S0 seen face-on or an elliptical galaxy of type E1.
Charles Messier discovered M84 during one of his regular night sky patrols on March 18, 1781. He also discovered and catalogued another eight objects on the same day including M86, another giant lenticular or elliptical galaxy that's positioned just east of M84. The apparent size of M84 is 6.5 x 5.6 arc minutes and it's about 60 Million light years distant. This corresponds to a spatial diameter of 110,000 light-years.
M84 lies at the heart of the Virgo Cluster, close to the Virgo-Coma Berenices constellation border. It can be found by imagining a line connecting Denebola (β Leo - mag. +2.1) to Vindemiatrix (ε Vir - mag. +2.8). At the centre point of this line is M84 with M86 positioned 17 arc minutes east of M84.
The Virgo cluster galaxies are best seen during the months of March, April and May.
The Perseids one of the finest annual meteor showers peaks this year on the night of August 12th/13th. On this date up to 100 meteors per hour can be seen under perfect conditions. Unfortunately this year's spectacle will be greatly affected by the full Moon, which occurs on the same day. However, all is not lost since many Perseids can still be seen in the days leading up to the maximum, when the Moon won't interfere as much.
Discovery and Parent Body
The Perseids meteor shower is associated with comet 109P/Swift–Tuttle or as it's more often known comet Swift-Tuttle; a Halley-type object with an orbital period of 133 years. The Perseid cloud consists of particles ejected by the comet and stretches along the comet's orbit. It's believed that most of today's dust in the cloud is about 1000 years old, although some parts may be considerably younger. When the Earth passes through a replenished area the meteor rate is increased compared to the older part of the stream. Recent analysis by NASA has rated the Perseids as the best meteor shower when it comes to fireballs. The shower is also extremely reliable and rarely fails to deliver. Of all other annual showers only the December Geminids is comparable.
The Perseids were first recorded by Chinese observers in 36 AD with comet Swift-Tuttle independently discovered by Lewis Swift on July 16, 1862 and by Horace Parnell Tuttle on July 19, 1862. Computations of the orbit of the Perseids between 1864 and 1866 by Italian astronomer G. V. Schiaparelli revealed a very strong resemblance to the recently discovered comet and this was the first time a meteor shower had been positively identified with a comet. The years either side of perihelion, usually exhibit higher rates of Persieds meteors, as was the case during the last perihelion in 1992. Swift-Tuttle on this occasion was visible from Earth with binoculars.
This meteor shower gets the name "Perseids" because it's radiant is located in the constellation Perseus. The radiant, the point in the sky where the meteors appear to originate from is positioned at right ascension (RA) 02hr 27m and declination (DEC) +58 degrees. This is close to the border with Cassiopeia and its well-known "W" shape asterism.
The meteors are visible from about July 17th to August 24th with rates starting low, gradually building up to the peak date, before falling off again afterwards. The shower is best seen from the northern hemisphere where the radiant appears high towards the northeastern part of the sky.
For those located in the southern hemisphere, the Perseid radiant is either very low down or even never climbs above the horizon. This considerably reduces the number of meteors likely to be seen, although it's possible to see a few meteors per hour coming up from the northern horizon.
M16 or the "Eagle Nebula" is a young open cluster of stars embedded within an extremely large cloud of interstellar gas and dust in the constellation of Serpens (Cauda). It's located 7,000 light years from Earth in the next inner spiral arm of the Milky Way. The emission part of the nebula - or H II region - is catalogued as IC 4703 and is an active star-forming region that's already created a significant cluster of young stars. The cluster itself lies at the heart of the Eagle Nebula and is known as NGC 6611. M16 was discovered by Philippe Loys de Chéseaux in 1745-6, but Charles Messier was the first to record the associated nebulosity on June 3, 1764.
The constellation of Serpens is faint but unique since its split into two separate sections. One half lies to the west of Ophiuchus and is named Serpens Caput and the other half, Serpens Cauda, lies on the eastern side of Ophiuchus. At the very southern tip of Serpens Cauda, close to the Scutum and Sagittarius border is M16. It can be found 2.5 degrees west of γ Sct (mag. +4.7) and a few degrees north of the Omega Nebula (M17), M18 and the Sagittarius Star Cloud (M24). This beautifully rich area of the sky is a delight to scan with binoculars.
The Eagle Nebula was immortalised in 1995 when imaged several times by the Hubble Space Telescope. The resulting iconic photograph - titled the "Pillars of Creation" - showed three magnificent columns of interstellar gas and dust displayed in sensational detail.
M68 is a mag. +7.8 medium sized globular cluster located in eastern Hydra that was discovered by Charles Messier on April 9, 1780. Although not as spectacular as great globulars such as Omega Centauri, 47 Tucanae or M13, it's easily visible with 7x50 or 10x50 binoculars and appears obviously non-stellar. The globular is well seen through medium and large sized amateur scopes.
Hydra is the night sky's largest constellation. However, despite it's immense apparent size it contains only one reasonably bright star, Alphard (α Hya) at mag. +2.0. Despite this, locating M68 is quite easy as it's positioned just south of the relatively bright quadrangle of Corvus (Crv) and 3.5 degress southeast of star β Crv (mag. +2.6).
With a declination of -26.7 degrees, M68 is best seen from the Southern Hemisphere during the months of March, April and May. From northern temperate locations it appears low down and doesn't climb very high above the southern horizon at best.
Mercury starts the month heading towards superior conjunction which it reaches on August 8th. The planet is located on the far side of the Sun and remains unobservable from northern temperate latitudes throughout the month. Observers located at equatorial and southern hemisphere latitudes will be able to spot Mercury during the last week of August when it becomes visible as an evening object, low down above the western horizon just after sunset.
For example on August 23rd, Mercury shines at magnitude -0.6 and from latitude 35S (approx. equal to Sydney, Cape Town and Santiago) it will appear 7 degrees above the western horizon, 30 minutes after sunset. On the last day of the month it will have dimmed slightly to magnitude -0.3 but on the other hand 12 degrees above the same horizon.
For many months now Venus has been a superb dazzling morning object before sunrise. The planet remains visible towards the northeast during August but by months end rises just one hour before the Sun. At magnitude -3.9, Venus is unmistakable, a blazing beacon of light above the horizon.
On August 18, Venus passes only 0.2 degrees north of Jupiter (mag. -1.8). The pairing forms a wonderful sight in the pre-dawn sky for a few days before and after this. The brightness difference is noticeable, Venus appears about five times brighter than the much larger but more distant Jupiter. On August 23rd, the thin waning crescent Moon passes about 5 degrees south of Venus and Jupiter.
Mars remains an evening object this month as it continues its rapid south-easterly motion against the "fixed" background stars. At the start of the month the "Red planet" is located in Virgo, 8 degrees southeast of the constellation brightest star Spica (α Vir - mag. +1.0). On August 10th, Mars moves into Libra where it remains for the remainder of the month. Also currently located in Libra is Saturn and Mars will catch up and overtake the "Ringed planet" on August 27th. Both planets have the same brightness (mag. +0.6) but the colour contrast is striking - Mars a deep orange-red and Saturn an off white almost creamish colour.
As the month progresses, Mars fades slightly from magnitude +0.4 to +0.6 with its apparent size shrinking from 7.9 to 6.8 arc seconds. The planet sets about 2 hours after the Sun from northern temperate latitudes but from Southern Hemisphere latitudes it's visible for twice as long. On August 3rd, the first quarter Moon passes 2.2 degrees north of Mars.
Jupiter, magnitude -1.8, passed through solar conjunction at the end of last month. From about the middle of August it will reappear above the eastern horizon in the early morning sky, rising a few minutes earlier each subsequent day. The planet is currently located in the constellation of Cancer with an apparent size of about 32 arc seconds. From northern temperate latitudes, Jupiter rises more than 2.5 hours before the Sun, although considerably less from more southerly locations.
Although, the largest planet of our solar system is probably too low above the east-northeastern horizon for serious telescopic observation this month, it's still an impressive naked eye sight. As mentioned above, Venus passes only 0.2 degrees north of Jupiter on August 18th.
Saturn is now again moving direct amongst the stars of Libra. The planet reached its second stationary point last month signaling the end of this year's opposition period. However, Saturn remains reasonably well placed for observation during August. By months end it sets about 2 hours after the Sun from northern temp latitudes and rather later from locations further south.
The planets brightness dims slightly from mag +0.5 to +0.6 as the month progresses with its apparent size reducing from 17.1 to 16.3 arc seconds. As already mentioned Mars is currently in the same area of sky and on August 27th, it will overtake and pass 4 degrees south of Saturn.
The first quarter Moon will passes 0.1 degrees south of Saturn on August 4th with an occultation visible from New Zealand and most of Australia (10:32 UT). Later in the month on August 31st, the waxing crescent Moon passes 0.4 degrees north of Saturn with an occultation visible from West Africa (18:59 UT).
Uranus is an evening object, shining at magnitude +5.8 amongst the stars of Pisces. At the start of the month, the distant planet rises in the east before midnight and a little earlier each day as the month progresses. It then remains visible for the remainder of the night.
Uranus is positioned 15 degrees south, 20 degrees east of the centre of the "Great Square of Pegasus" and 2 degrees south of star ε Psc (mag. +4.3). The planet is bright enough to be easily spotted with binoculars or a small telescope. It's also visible to the naked eye but this is a challenging task, requiring dark skies.
A small telescope at high magnification will show the planet as a small green disk, obviously non-stellar (apparent diameter 3.6 arc seconds). However, even when viewed through the largest amateur scopes it's difficult to make out any surface details.
On August 14th, the waning gibbous Moon passes 1.2 degrees north of Uranus.
Neptune (mag. +7.8), the most distant planet in the Solar System reaches opposition in Aquarius on August 29th and hence is visible all night long. At opposition the planet is positioned 28.963 AU (4333 million km or 2692 million miles) from Earth.
With a declination of almost -10 degrees, Neptune is currently better situated for observation for observers located in either the tropics or Southern Hemisphere than for those in the Northern Hemisphere.
The planet is located a couple of degrees northeast of Sigma (σ) Aqr (mag. +4.8) and about 30 degrees southwest of the Great Square of Pegasus. Although Neptune is a considerably sized planet it's too distant and hence too faint to be seen with the naked eye. However, it's visible with binoculars. A small to medium sized telescope at high magnifications will show the planet as a small bluish disk, although the surface appears devoid of details.
On August 12th, the full Moon passes 5 degrees north of Neptune.
The Southern Pinwheel Galaxy also known as M83 is a barred spiral galaxy approximately 14.7 million light-years distant in the eastern section of the largest constellation of all, Hydra. It's one of the closest barred spirals, a showpiece galaxy and the finest barred spiral in the sky. With an apparent magnitude of +7.5, M83 is visible with 7x50 or 10x50 binoculars, appearing under dark skies as a patch of light with a brighter centre. It was discovered by Nicholas Louis de Lacaille at the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa on February 23, 1752 and added by Charles Messier to his catalogue on February 17, 1781.
With a declination of 30 degrees south, M83 is best seen from Southern Hemisphere or equatorial regions during the months of April, May and June. For mid-latitude northern hemisphere observers, the galaxy can be a difficult object; it's the southernmost galaxy in Messier's list and therefore never climbs particularly high above the southern horizon.
Despite being a relatively bright galaxy M83 can be tricky to locate as it's positioned in a part of the sky devoid of bright stars. It can be found by locating stars γ Hya (mag. +3.0) and π Hya (mag. +3.3). Imagine a line connecting these two stars and then move along the line until just short of the halfway mark. Located about 6 degrees south of this point is M83.
M59 is an elliptical galaxy in Virgo that's a member of the Virgo cluster that was discovered by Johann Gottfried Koehler on April 11, 1779 when observing a comet in that region of sky. On the same day, he also discovered neigbouring galaxy M60, a slightly larger and brighter version of M59. Also comet chasing at that time was Charles Messier who independently found both galaxies four days after Koehler. During his search, Messier also discovered M58 another nearby Virgo cluster galaxy that was missed by Koehler. Of the three, Messier described M60 as the brightest galaxy with M59 and M58 being fainter and of similar magnitude.
At apparent magnitude +9.8, M59 is a challenging small telescope object. It can be spotted with small 80mm (3.1-inch) scopes or even large binoculars, but dark skies are a must. Even then it only appears as a hazy patch, that's better seen with larger amateur instruments.
M59 is located 60 Million light years distant. It displays an apparent size of 5.4 x 3.7 arc minutes, which corresponds to a spatial diameter of 95,000 light-years. Despite been one of the larger elliptical galaxies in the Virgo cluster, M59 is considerably less massive and less luminous than the other great cluster ellipticals, M49, M60 and M87.
A good proportion of the Messier Virgo Cluster galaxies can be found along or near an imaginary line connecting Denebola (β Leo - mag. +2.1) to Vindemiatrix (ε Vir - mag. +2.8). M59 is no exception and it's positioned about 5 degrees from Vindemiatrix. Located 0.4 degrees east of M59 is M60 with M58 one degree west of M59.
The galaxies are best seen during the months of March, April and May.
The Southern Delta Aquariids is a strong and fairly consistent meteor shower that takes place from July 12th to August 23rd. This year, peak activity occurs on July 29th and is predicted to reach a maximum Zenithal Hourly Rate (ZHR) of 16 meteors per hour. The stream is generally regarded as producing faint meteors, void of fireballs which move across the sky at slow to medium velocity. The shower is best seen from the tropics and southern hemisphere, upon where the radiant appears higher in the sky, compared to northern temperate latitudes.
The Southern Delta Aquariids is the brighter part of the Delta Aquariid meteor shower; the Northern Delta Aquariids being the weaker stream. The period of activity of the northern shower is similar to that of its southern partner - from July 15th to August 25th (peak: August 6th) - although it's ZHR is a paltry 4 meteors per hour.
Discovery and Parent Body
Lieutenant Colonel G. L. Tupman, a member of the Italian Meteoric Association made the first detailed recordings of Delta Aquariids meteors between July 27th and August 6th, 1870. The streams were then unidentified, but by plotting data from 65 meteors, he was to a reasonable degree of accuracy able to determine the general area of the radiant.
Between 1926 and 1933, New Zealander Ronald McIntosh improved the position of the radiant based on a greater number of observations. A few years later in 1938, Cuno Hoffmeister founder of Sonneberg Observatory, along with his German colleagues were able to first record the northern part of the stream. It was astronomer Mary Almond, in 1952, who finally confirmed the presence of the two separate radiants.
The parent body of the Southern Delta Aquariids is uncertain. However, comet 96P/Machholz or comet Machholz as it's often referred to is a possible candidate. This Jupiter family comet was discovered in 1986 by amateur astronomer Donald Machholz using just a pair of 130mm binoculars. It has an orbital period of 5.2 years.
The shower radiants are located in the faint zodiac constellation of Aquarius, which is positioned about 30 degrees to the south and southwest of the "Square of Pegasus". The southern radiant is just over 3 degrees west of star Skat (δ Aqr - mag. +3.3), with the northern radiant a further 14 degrees to the north. The brightest star in the surrounding sky is first magnitude Fomalhaut (α PsA - mag. +1.2) in the constellation Piscis Austrinus. Fomalhaut is positioned about 14 degrees south-southeast of the southern radiant.
After passing perihelion on July 2nd, Comet Jacques (C/2014 E2) has now moved into the early morning sky. On July 22nd it shone at magnitude +6.3, therefore just beyond naked eye visibility but bright enough to be seen with binoculars and small telescopes. The comet is now slowly decreasing in magnitude but will remain bright enough to be visible with binoculars and small scopes for many weeks to come.
Location and star chart
Jacques spends the last week of July and the first part of August moving in a northwest direction through the constellation of Auriga. It then passes into Perseus on August 5th remaining there until the 15th, before moving into the sparse dim constellation of Camelopardalis. During this time, it's expected Jacques will fade in brightness from magnitude +6.3 to +7.0. For Northern Hemisphere observers, the comet is now well placed for observation. It's visible towards the east in the morning sky, improving in latitude as the month progress. From Southern Hemisphere latitudes Jacques is visible very low towards the eastern sky during morning twilight at the end of July, but is then quickly lost to the bright glare of the Sun and won't be visible again until early September.
The finder chart below shows the positions of Jacques from July 19 to August 10, 2014.
M55 is a globular cluster located in eastern Sagittarius towards its border with Capricornus and Microscopium. At magnitude +6.7, it's beyond naked eye visibility but bright enough to be seen with binoculars. However, it's not an easy globular to locate since there aren't any particular bright stars nearby. With a declination of -30 degrees, M55 is one of the more southerly objects in Messier's catalogue and therefore especially difficult for observers based at northern temperate latitudes. It's best seen from southern or equatorial latitudes during the months of June, July and August.
M55 was discovered by Nicholas Louis de Lacaille on June 16, 1752 while observing from South Africa. Charles Messier then catalogued it on July 24, 1778. From Paris, Messier had difficulty finding M55, it took him 14 years to spot it!
Finding M55 can be challenging. One method is to begin with the "teapot" asterism of Sagittarius. Start by locating stars Kaus Media (δ Sgr - mag. +2.7) and Ascella (ζ Sgr - mag. +2.6). Then imagine a line from Kaus Media moving eastwards towards and passing through Ascella. Curve this line for another 17 degrees to arrive at M55.