|Markarian's Chain: Galaxy Group (Virgo & Coma Berenices)|
Instrument: 10-inch Starfinder
In December 1961, a three-page conference report titled "Physical Chain of Galaxies in the Virgo Cluster and Its Dynamic Instabilty" was published in volume 66 of The Astronomical Journal. The author, B. E. Markarian, used statistical analysis to support his conclusion that a chain of eight galaxies "in the Virgo cluster is not a chance grouping but a real physical system." Markarian's Chain, as it has come to be known, consists of NGC 4374 (M84), NGC 4406 (M86), NGC 4435, NGC 4438, NGC 4458, NGC 4461, NGC 4473 and NGC 4477. This meandering chain of galaxies extends about 1.5 degrees from M84, in Virgo, to NGC 4477, in Coma Berenices.
Although the issue of whether or not those eight galaxies a part of a real physical system remains open to debate, Markarian's Chain is unquestionably one of the finest galaxy groupings for the visual observer. This page features sketches of the galaxies discussed in B. E. Markarian's paper and several nearby star cities. All drawings present 129X views in my 10-inch Meade Starfinder equatorial Newtonian. We begin with the galaxies gathered around M84 and M86. This pair of bright elliptical galaxies form the core of the Virgo galaxy cluster. NGC 4387 is centered between and 6' to the south. This elliptical galaxy has a visual magnitude of 12.1. NGC 4388 is another 10' to the south. Its 11.1 magnitude glow is spread east-to-west in a dull, thin nebulosity. Finally, there is NGC 4413. This 12.3 magnitude SBa-type galaxy is located 12' east-southeast from NGC 4388.
This second sketch shows NGC 4402, an 11.8 magnitude spiral galaxy 10' north of M84. NGC 4402 appears 3'x1' in size and elongated east-to-west. M84 and M86 shine at magnitudes 9.1 and 8.9, respectively. M84 is also slightly larger, appearing 3' across compared to M86's 2' diameter.
This sketch includes M86 to help you get your bearings. It's inside the border to the northwest. The chain is going eastward at this point. NGC 4425 is the 180"x30", 11.8 magnitude galaxy 19' southeast of M86 just inside the field boundary. NGC 4435 and NGC 4438 are seen 20' to the northeast. NGC 4435 is a 45"x30", 10.8 magnitude oval. NGC 4438 is larger, elongated northeast-to-southwest and 10.1 magnitude. This pair is separated by about 4'.
Now moving 21' to the northeast, we encounter NGC 4458 and NGC 4461. Both appear 1' in size with NGC 4458 being slightly elongated northeast-to-southwest. NGC 4458 is also not as bright, 12.0 magnitude compared to NGC 4461's 11.1 magnitude. This pair is also separated by about 4'. A 10th magnitude GSC shines 2' east of NGC 4458.
Continue northeast for 17' to NGC 4473. This is a 10.2 magnitude elliptical galaxy. It covers a 3'x2', east-west elongated area at 129X in the 10-inch.
Slewing 12' to the northeast, we encounter another galaxy pair. NGC 4477 and NGC 4479 are both SBO-type galaxies. NGC 4477 is the brighter of the two at 10.4 magnitude. It covers a 2' diameter area and features a stellar nucleus. NGC 4479 is a misty 12.4 magnitude patch, 60"x30" in size. This pair is separated by 5'.4. Officially, this pairing marks the northern limit of Markarian's Chain.
Over the years, amateur astronomers have adopted Markarian's Chain as something akin to an asterism. Since were talking about an arrangement of galaxies, perhaps galaxism or nebulism would be more appropriate. In any event, this pairing fills the gap between NGC 447 and M88. NGC 4459 is positioned 26' from NGC 4477 and just north of an 8.7 magnitude star. This 10.3 magnitude SO-type galaxy is spread across a 60"x30" area. NGC 4474, 14' to the east, is somewhat fainter at 11.5 magnitude. It's also not as large. NGC 4468, a 12.7 magnitude galaxy stationed between this pair, is not shown. If you were to slew northeast about 37', you would find M88.
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Revised: December 4, 2005 [WDF]