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Messier 61

Spiral Galaxy M61 (NGC 4303), type SABbc, in Virgo

[m61.jpg]
Right Ascension 12 : 21.9 (h:m)
Declination +04 : 28 (deg:m)
Distance 60000 (kly)
Visual Brightness 9.7 (mag)
Apparent Dimension 6x5.5 (arc min)

Discovered 1779 by Barnabus Oriani.

Messier 61 (M61, NGC 4303) is a considerable spiral galaxy in the southernmost part of the Virgo Cluster of Galaxies.

M61 was discovered by Barnabus Oriani on May 5, 1779 when following the comet of that year, 6 days before Charles Messier's discovery, who had seen it on the same day as Oriani but mistaken it for the comet. Messier mistook it for two nights more, until he realized that it did not move. As for a small number of others, this object was assigned an own number, H I.139, by William Herschel, who normally avoided to give own numbers to Messier's objects, when he observed and cataloged it on April 17, 1786.

M61 is one of the larger galaxies in the Virgo cluster; its 6 arc minutes of diameter correspond to about 100,000 light years, similar to the diameter of the Milky Way galaxy. Its 10th magnitude corresponds to an absolute magnitude of -21.2.

Six supernovae have been observed in M61:

NED gives the following types and (alternative values for) maxima: SN 1926A, type IIL, 14pv; SN 1961I, type II, 13.0; SN 1964F, type I, 14.0. The Supernova 1961I appeared in the spiral arms, about 82" from the center, and was photographed by the Lick observatory, see e.g. Burnham (you may also order this image from them as slide or print). The three more recent supernovae, SN 1999gn, SN 2006ov, and SN 2008in, all have been found to be of type II.

With its sixth supernovae flashing up, M61 has caught up the current record mark set by M83 to co-lead in the statistics of Messier galaxies. At the time of this writing (March 2009), both are three SNe behind the overall record holder, NGC 6946.

  • Historical Observations and Descriptions of M61
  • More images of M61
  • Amateur images of M61

  • SIMBAD Data of M61
  • NED Data of M61
  • Publications on M61 (NASA ADS)
  • Observing Reports for M61 (IAAC Netastrocatalog)
  • NGC Online data for M61


    Hartmut Frommert
    Christine Kronberg
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    Last Modification: March 9, 2009