The Virgin is the second largest constellation and easy to find thanks to the 1.0m bright Spica. The many galaxies in the 65 million light-years away Virgo Cluster are hard to find and a challenge even for an experienced observer. Owners of large telescopes can find 5° north of γ Virginis also the brightest known quasar – it appears as a 13m star.
RV Virginis is a Mira-type variable with an extremely short period – only around 145.5 days are between two maxima. During this time its brightness varies from 6.2 to 12.0m. As long as it is bright enough, you can find it 4.5° southwest of Spica. Mira stars are old, red giant stars that pulsate. With the star‘s diameter, also its brightness changes.
M 49 is the second brightest elliptical galaxy of the Virgo Cluster. The 8 × 10 arcmin large galaxy is 8.4m bright and can be seen quite well in 7 × 50 binoculars. Look for it 3.5° southeast of the 4.9m bright ρ Virginis. M 49 marks the center of the Virgo cloud, a subset of the Virgo cluster of galaxies.
M 61 is said to have been observed with averted vision in 7 × 35 binoculars, when the sky is dark enough, and in a 10 × 50 the brighter core of the six arcminutes large face-on galaxy is easily visible under good conditions – at least as blurry star. The galaxy is located 5° north of η Virginis and is 10.1m bright. At low magnification it appears only as a nebulous star, which does not make it obvious that you are looking at a 110,000 light-years wide and 36 million light-years distant barred spiral galaxy.
M 84 and M 86 form one of the better known galaxy pairs. They can be seen in a 10 × 50 as two oval slices, each with about five minutes of arc in diameter. Look for them 5° northwest of ρ Virginis. M 84 is the western of the two galaxies and 39 million light-years away. It is an elliptical galaxy with a total luminosity of 9.1m and a diameter of 100,000 light-years. Thus, it is slightly smaller and more compact than M 86 (which is at 8.9m actually brighter), and because of this M 84 is easier to recognize, although it is dimmer. M 84 has no more direct companion galaxies. She‘s probably merged with them long ago, which would explain its large size.
M 86 is probably 53 million light-years away and has a diameter of 140,000-175,000 light-years. It is an intermediate form of an elliptical and a spiral galaxy. M 86 shows a blue shift, so it is actually moving towards us. M 84 and M 86 are 20 arc minutes apart, each of them has about 3,000 globular clusters.
You may barely make out the dust belt in the equatorial plane of the edge-on galaxy in an 11 × 80 binocular, which gave the Sombrero-Galaxy M 104 its nickname. Under good conditions, smaller binoculars can show a nebula, which is brighter towards the center. The 8.0m bright galaxy is 8 × 3 arcmin large, and can be found 5.5° northeast of η Corvi. Thus, it is almost 20° south of the Virgo Cluster. Whether it belongs to it or not, is unclear – older measurements gave a distance of 63 million light-years, today the distance is given as only 31 million light-years. In 1912, it was the first galaxy where a red shift was measured – eleven years before the distance of the Andromeda galaxy M 31 could be determined and thus the nature of the galaxies was clarified for the first time.