Line up Markarian’s Chain

Markarian’s Chain is a string of eight galaxies straddling the boundary between Virgo and Coma Berenices. Messier 84 and 86 dominate together with ‘The Eyes’, interacting NGC 4435 and 4438. Image: Terry Hancock.

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’.

Messier 84 (right) and Messier 86, two heavyweight elliptical galaxies, anchor the south-western end of Markarian’s Chain. NGC 4387 is the tiny galaxy just to the south, while south again lies edge-on NGC 4388. Image: Bernhard Hubl.

Find the link 

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’s territory, and extends for about 1.5° to NGC 4477 across the boundary in Coma Berenices. All of the ‘chain gang’ should be within range of a 150mm (six-inch) telescope. In early April, the Chain is well up in the east-southeast by nightfall and goes on to culminate around 50° high at about 12.20am BST. 

Markarian’s Chain lies at the heart of the Virgo Cluster of Galaxies, straddling the boundary between Virgo to the south and Coma Berenices to the north. AN graphic by Greg Smye-Rumsby.
Lets zoom in on Markarian’s Chain.

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 some 5° north-west of magnitude +5 rho (r) Virginis. As a challenge, if you are using a telescope in the 300mm (12-inch) class, shift your gaze slightly to the south of M84 and M86 and see if you can spot NGC 4387, a magnitude +13 galaxy that spans just 1.7’ x 1’.

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 3.7’ x 1.5’ eleventh-magnitude spiral, with NGC 4458, a smaller and round elliptical, just to the north. A 150mm (six-inch) telescope should show the former but you will probably need a 200mm (eight-inch) ‘scope for the latter.

The last links in the chain lie across the boundary in Coma Berenices. NGC 4473 is a magnitude +10.2 class E5 elliptical spanning 4.5’ x 2.6’ and, finally, lying around 12’ north is magnitude +10.4 NGC 4477, another spiral which covers 4’ x 3.5’. Both galaxies appear similar through a 150mm telescope.

A close up of NGC 4435 and 4438, known popularly as ‘The Eyes’. Image: ESO.


Here’s a remarkable view of Markarian’s Chain and its environs swathed in faint emission nebulosity. M84 and M86 lay right centre, with the Chain extending away to the east (left). Messier 87, the Virgo Cluster’s behemoth dominant elliptical lies to the lower left of M84 and M86, with M89, another elliptical seen further east, and the inclined spiral M90 to M89’s north-east (upper-left). Image: Miguel Claro.