Markarian’s Chain -the eyes have it!

Markarian’s Chain is a string of eight galaxies straddling the boundary between Virgo and Coma Berenices. Messier 84 and 86 (farthest right [west]) dominate together with ‘The Eyes’, interacting NGC 4435 and 4438, lying to the left (east) of Messier pairing. Image: Terry Hancock.
When: all night throughout April.

What’s special: The Virgo Cluster of galaxies reigns supreme for galaxy enthusiasts on spring nights. Its teeming galaxy fields, centred either side of the boundary between Virgo and Coma Berenices, are crammed with any number of outstanding individual galaxy gems, but if you’re wanting more bang for your buck, then track down Markarian’s Chain, a string of galaxies that includes Messier 84 and 86 and the interacting pair NGC 4435 and 4438, popularly called ‘The Eyes’.

How to observe: Markarian’s Chain consists of a line of at least eight galaxies that curves north and east from Messier 84 and 86, just inside Virgo, and extends for about 1.5 degrees to NGC 4477 in Coma Berenices. All of the ‘chain gang’ should be within range of a 150mm (six-inch) telescope.

Dominant at the western end of the chain are Messier 84 and 86, a pair of ninth-magnitude elliptical galaxies (classed as E1 and E3, respectively) lying around 17′ apart. The next two links in the chain, NGC 4435 and 4438 (also catalogued as Arp 120), the interacting ‘starburst’ pair known as ‘The Eyes’, are the most interesting. NGC 4435 is the smaller, more northerly galaxy of the pair, a barred lenticular that, shining at magnitude +10.8, is fainter than NGC 4438, its larger and much-disrupted neighbour (+10.0), though it exhibits a higher surface brightness.

Moving further north and east but staying in Virgo sees NGC 4461, a 4′ × 1′ eleventh-magnitude spiral, with NGC 4458, a smaller and round elliptical. The last links in the chain lie across the boundary in Coma. NGC 4473 is a magnitude +10.2 class E5 elliptical spanning 5′ × 3′ and, finally, lying around 12′ north is magnitude +10.4 NGC 4477, another spiral which covers 4′ × 3′.