SH018 – The Realm of the Galaxies – Part 1

In Episode SH018 of Star Hopping…

We’ll start our exploration of the Realm of the Galaxies, in the Virgo region. We’ll use our star hopping methods to find Messier 98, Messier 99, and the grand design spiral, Messier 100.


Well, the time has finally arrived for us to begin our exploration of the Realm of the Galaxies, a galactic supercluster containing around 1500 galaxy members. The Realm lies between the constellations of Leo, Coma Berenices, and Virgo. It’s found halfway between the two bright stars Denebola in Leo, and Vindemiatrix in Virgo.

Between those two stars, however, lies a significant lack of bright stars, so navigation can be difficult. Our guide stars in these hops are all around 6th magnitude, so a large finderscope on your telescope will be a very useful accessory over the next few weeks. This is one of the most difficult areas in the sky for newer amateur astronomers, because there are few stars and many of the galaxies look the same in the eyepiece. The best way of attacking this challenge is to methodically hop through the main chain of galaxies, and identify each one positionally as you move along. Along the chain of galaxies there are targets that visually stand out, so you can use those to chart your progress.

A Fun Activity

Years ago, my friend Rob Conway and I did a galaxy hop together using our star charts, and called out the positions of the galaxies as we found them together – this is a great  and very fun activity that I would highly recommend to you any your observing buddies.

We’ll spend three weeks looking at the Realm. In this episode, Part 1, we’ll set up our search pattern and repeat it each successive week. It really helps to be consistent in how you step through the Realm, because as it is very easy to get lost.

The first few galaxies that we will be looking at lie at the western end of the cluster, and we’ll start with the faintest one and get successive brighter. But to find them we need to do our setup for trekking through the Realm from the West – in this case moving downward toward the eastern horizon.

Our gate to the Realm in Leo is the bright star Denebola, which we saw in the last couple of episodes. Denebola is the star in the tip of the triangle that forms the Lion’s tail.

Are you ready to venture into the Realm? Sounds scary doesn’t it? No worries, I’ll  hold your virtual hand on the way. So let’s go…

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Credits for this Episode

  • Star Chart Images & Simulations Courtesy of SkySafari Astronomy
  • M98 image by
  • M99 image by David Hearn / Kissimmee Park Observatory
  • M100 image by the Schulman Foundation Telescope on Mt. Lemmon

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