Sunday, February 5, 2017

M104, The Mexican Sombrero in the Sky

In my opinion, M104, at least visually, is the crown jewel of all the galaxies in Virgo. Let’s remember that Virgo is the window to the Virgo Cluster, a massive cluster of roughly 2000 galaxies, but Sombrero galaxy is not a direct member of the supercluster. In fact,  the galaxy is right at the edge of Virgo’s boundary and honestly it is easier to start searching for it from Corvus than from Virgo.

I have seen it with both of my binoculars, 15x70 and 10x50. They do not reveal much detail, but it is quite obvius, with averted vision, to be an enlarged smudge among the stars. It kind of resembles the view of  the Sculptor Galaxy.
To find Sombrero, follow  the way from Algorab (δ Crv), a third magnitude star visible under skies with moderate light pollution or darker.  From there take steps to the north until there is a tiny asterisms of few stars (in low magnification it is possible almost only 3 stars can be seen on each one): the Stargate, looks like a small triangle inside another triangle. And just next to it, there is another peculiar and smaller asterism that  looks like the symbol “” and it points down towards the galaxy.

I could see the main body like a needle with a bright bulge in the middle sorrounded by an almost circular fuzzy glaze around, but I could not see the charactistc dust lane even with averted vision.  Rodrigo, a friend of  mine from Argentina could see the dust lane with only 66x with a 8” dobsonian under Bortle 2 skies. Here is his wonderful sketch and story.

If one sees the facts about Sombrero, the central bulge is definitely its most impressive part. It is made of old stars piled up in thousand of globular clusters with a supermassive black hole with the mass of 1 billion suns in the heart of it. In 2003, the Hubble telescope captured the Sombrero in all its glory. In this season early in the morning there is a chance for us to go and try to get a glimpse of it with either a telescope or binoculars.

Clear skies,


Edited by: Jennifer Steinberg (editor in chief)


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