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M59 & M60 - Two Elliptical Galaxies in Virgo

Updated: May 18

Messier 59 and Messier 60 are two elliptical galaxies in the constellation Virgo. Because of their type, they both look like bright blobs in the sky and are, to be honest, pretty boring looking. The reason why we find the image below very interesting is because of the dozens of other galaxies visible in the frame. Virgo is one of the busiest constellations in the sky and the area around these two Messier objects is definitely very active!

M59 and M60 are best photographed in Spring. Read our guide on the 15 best Astrophotography targets for Spring if you need some inspiration about what to image next!

Read through this post to learn more about this image, and see what the single shots looked like! You can also watch our short "New Entry" video on YouTube.

M59, M60 & Friends

Messier 59, Messier 60 Astrophotography


Camera: ZWO ASI 071MC

Telescope: Meade 115mm APO

Mount: Equatorial Motorized Mount

Field Flattener/Focal Reducer: Meade 3" Flattener/Reducer

Guiding: ZWO ASI 290MM Mini

Acquisition: ZWO ASIAIR

Power: Pegasus Astro Pocket Powerbox

Processing: PixInsight


Total Exposure Time: 4 hours and 15 min

Exposure Time per frame: 3 minutes

85 lights - 15 Darks

GAIN: 90


Messier 59 elliptical galaxy by Hubble
Messier 59 by the Hubble Space Telescope

Messier 59 is a rich and very large elliptical galaxy in Virgo. It can easily be seen with small telescopes but the object will not reveal any detail no matter the size of your instrument.

The photo on the left was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. It is known that M59 contains more than 2,200-star clusters! Another interesting fact is that the 200-million light-year-wide region around the core of the object rotates in the opposite direction as the rest of the galaxy.

Messier 60 by the Hubble Space Telescope
Messier 60 by the Hubble Space Telescope

Messier 60, once again captured by the Hubble Space Telescope as seen on the right, is even more massive than M59 and is considered to be a "Giant". M60 is the third brightest member of the Virgo Cluster, outshone only by M49 and M87.

Messier 60 is bright enough to be seen with any telescope. It is nice to note that its core is home to one of the most massive black holes ever discovered! The fainter, spiral galaxy next to M60 (visible in Hubble's photo as well as ours if you zoom close enough) is NGC 4647. It is unsure if the two galaxies are interacting or if they are very distant from each other.

Below is a crop on both Messier objects as seen in our own photograph. We are pleased with the result considering how small and featureless these two objects are! Our main objective was to be able to resolve NGC 4647, and it does look clear!

What do you think of these images? Would adding several hours of exposure change anything knowing there isn't any detail to be seen anyway? Let us know your thoughts!


How to Find M59 and M60

How to locate the galaxies M59 and M60 in the night sky

Both galaxies are visible through binoculars and telescopes, but not with the naked eye. Depending on the instrument, M81 will look like a blurry oval shape with a bright center, while M82 will appear as a thin line of light.

The pair are located in the constellation of the Big Dipper: Ursa Major. The easiest way to find them is to first spot the bright star Dubhe, which forms the top point of the Big Dipper pan, then travel about 10 degrees northwest to spot the two galaxies.

Cool Facts

  • The pair M60 and NGC 4647 are also designated Arp 116

  • Both Messier objects were found on April 11, 1779, by German astronomer Johann Gottfried Koehler

  • NGC 4647 is about the same size as our own galaxy, the Milky Way

Single Shot & Processing of M59 & M60

Astrophotography equipment ready to image

Below we have attached what a single 3-minute shot of this area of the sky looked like, straight out of the camera.

This was taken from a Bortle 4 zone with our Meade 115mm APO telescope and ZWO ASI 071MC One-Shot-Color cooled camera. We did not use any filters. You can see our equipment fully installed and ready to go in the image on the left!

It was also our first time using this telescope, it felt a bit unfair to task it with dozens of galaxies for its first light, but it handled it all like a champ! We plan on using this telescope again for other galaxy clusters this season, and medium-sized nebulae in Summer.

As we said above, here is one of the 85 frames we captured that night on M59, M60, and friends!

3 minute single shot on M59 and M60
3 minute single shot on M59 and M60

Processing was a little bit tricky. We did not take flats (as usual...) and this time, it was really noticeable. It was a challenge to even the background out and make sure everything looked nice but our basic PixInsight workflow took great care of it! You can download our workflow for PixInsight HERE.

One of the other difficult parts of processing this image was to bring out the details in the tiny spiral galaxies visible in the frame without blowing up the bright ellipticals. This was achieved by zooming in all the way on M60 and NGC 4647 and playing with HDR Multiscale Transform as well as Curves to find the best possible combination.

New Entry Video

Below is our short video about capturing this part of the sky.

Final Thoughts

M59 & M60 are rarely photographed by amateur astrophotographers. We mostly wanted to capture those so that we could add both to our own Messier Catalog, but we are pleasantly surprised with the results and feel like they deserve some more love from the community!

So if you do not know what to photograph tonight (assuming it's still Spring when you are reading this), aim your telescope at these dozens of galaxies and photograph them! If you do, please attach your results to the comments section of this post so that we can all see what you achieved!

Make sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube to stay up to date with our work!

Clear Skies,

Antoine & Dalia Grelin

Galactic Hunter

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#M59 #M60 #NGC4647 #Meade115mm #Meade #071MC

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