July 2020 Messier of the Month

Original article appears in GuideStar July, 2020.

Messier of The Month

July 2020

By: Jim King

This is a series of columns primarily revolving around observing the Messier Catalogue.  The intent is to provide the reader a small sampling of the Messier objects each month that are most visible in the time frame the column is published.  Hence, these deep sky objects should be easily identifiable in and around the month of July.  Some months may have a special treat in addition to the Messier Objects.  Check the trailer. 

M68:  Globular Cluster

If you have a good southern horizon and are under dark skies, M68 is a marvelously challenging naked-eye globular.   This cluster’s magnitude is estimated to be 7.6 by James O’Meara, 0.3 magnitude fainter that the current published value.  It is in Hydra just 30m northeast of a magnitude 5.5 star and about 4.5 degrees southeast of mag 2.6 Beta Corvi.  In fact, if you were to stare at the 5.5 star and concentrate on M68’s position, it just might jump out at you.  William Herschel first resolved it “into a rich cluster of small stars so compressed that most of the components are blended together”.

Messier notes: (Observed April 9, 1780) Nebula without stars below Corvus and Hydra.  It is very faint, very difficult to observe with refractors.  Close to it is a 6th magnitude star.

NGC note: Globular cluster of stars, large, extremely rich, very compressed, irregularly round, well resolved, stars of 12th magnitude.

Data:                     Messier 68:  AKA NGC 4590:

                                Con: Hydra                                                                                                     Mag: 7.3; 7.6 (O’Meara)

                                S.B.: 12.5

                                RA: 12h 39.5m                                                                                               Dec: -26.45

                                Dist: 33,600 ly

M64: Swelling Spiral

M 64 is a nearby early-type spiral galaxy.  It appears at a moderately-high inclination and hosts a prominent dust-lane asymmetrically placed across the galaxy’s prominent bulge. Interestingly and oddly, the gas stars in M64’s inner region are rotating clockwise, while the gaseous outer regions are rotating counter-clockwise.

Messier: (Observed March 1, 1780) Nebula discovered in Coma Berenices, which is slightly less apparent than the one that is below the hair (M53). 

NGC: Remarkable, very bright, very large, very much extended roughly toward position angle 120 degrees, bright in the middle with a small, bright nucleus.

Data:                     Messier 64, NGC 4826, AKA Black Eye Galaxy, AKA Evil Eye Galaxy, AKA Sleeping Beauty Galaxy

                                Con: Coma Berenices                                                                                                   Mag: 8.5

                                SB: 13.3

                                RA: 12h 56.7 m                                                                                                             Dec: +21.41

                                Dist: 17 million ly +-                                                                        

M60 Elliptical Galaxy

M60 and M59 fit neatly into the same FOV with M58 in 7 X 35 binoculars.  M60 is clearly the brightest of the trio, shining nearly a full magnitude brighter than its neighbors.  M60 contains 5,100 globular cluster systems.  Studies of them that analyze the radial velocities of planetary nebula in the galaxy have revealed a dark matter halo and a total dust mass of about 400 billion solar masses.

Messier notes: (Observed April 15, 1779) Nebula in Virgo, slightly more conspicuous than M58 and M59.  He discovered these three “nebulae” while observing a comet passing very close them. 

NGC note: Very bright, pretty large, round, east of a double nebula.

Data:                     Messier 60, AKA: NGC 4649

                                Con: Virgo                                                                                                                      Mag: 8.8

                                SB: 12.8

                                RA: 12h 43.7m                                                                                                              Dec: +11.33

                                Dist: 55 million ly+-                                                                                        

July Bonus: Saturn and Jupiter in a 6-month journey to a conjunction culminating in December.

Our two most observable planets begin a long-term hook-up in the early evenings beginning late June. 

Keep Looking up!!

Jim King

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