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M 59
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M 59

February 18, 2005
Elliptical Galaxy M59 (NGC 4621), type E5, in Virgo

Right Ascension: 12 : 42.0 (h:m)
Declination: +11 : 39 (deg:m)
Distance: 60000 (kly)
Visual Brightness: 9.6 (mag)
Apparent Dimension: 5x3.5 (arc min)

Discovered 1779 by Johann Gottfried Koehler.

M59 is a member of the Virgo cluster of galaxies, and one of the larger elliptical galaxies there, although it is considerably less luminous and massive than the greatest ellipticals in this cluster, M49, M60 and, above all, M87. It is quite flattened: Various sources give values of its ellipticity as E3-E5 (the present author estimates E5, i.e. its larger axis is about double as long as its shorter one, but our values for its dimension are closer to E3). At an assumed distance of 60 million light years, its longer axis of 5 arc minutes corresponds to almost 90,000 light years linear extension. According to W.E. Harris' list, M59 has a system of 1900 +/- 400 globular clusters, considerably less than the three giants listed above, but still an order of magnitude more than our Milky Way Galaxy.

In our image, M59 is the elongated elliptical in the lower left, while in the right are M60 and its companion NGC 4647, and at the top is faint NGC 4638, an elliptical with photographic mag 12.2. Bill Arnett provides two images of M59 in his DSSM collection:

- One of M59 alone, showing a number of globular clusters

- the other of M59 with M60 and other galaxies.

M59 was discovered by Johann Gottfried Koehler on April 11, 1779, together with nearby M60, on the occasion of observing the comet of that year. Charles Messier, also when observing that comet, found both galaxies four days later, on April 15 of that year, and in addition nearby M58 which Koehler missed. Messier described M59 as equally faint as M58, and fainter than M60.


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