Solar System

(Berenice's Hair)

Squeezed between the brighter constellations of Boötes to the left and Leo to the right, Coma Berenices is completely smothered with galaxies. In the south of the constellation is the sprinkling of part of the Virgo Galaxy Cluster. The part that is in Coma Berenices is referred to as the Coma-Virgo Galaxy Cluster. This constellation is a treat for galaxy hunters with large telescopes.

The backstory behind this constellation depicts events that actually happened in ancient times. Queen Berenices promised to sacrifice her hair to the gods if her husband, King Ptolemy III Euergestes returned victorious from battle. Victorious and battle scarred he returned from battle, so the hair was cut off Berenice's head. The constellation was given its name by a Greek called Konon of Samos.

Blackeye Galaxy   Blackeye Galaxy (M64):

Looking like a survivor of an intergalactic scuffle, this galaxy is distinguished by a dark patch of dust. This patch is in fact a proponent of a phenomena known as 'Extended Red Emission'. These regions emit light by the photoluminescence of tiny dust particles that are abundant in the dusty patch. The dust patch is thronged with a large number of red emission clouds that glow brightly due to ultraviolet radiation emitted by young stars.

A strange fact about this galaxy is that it has a couplet of counter rotating disks. This means that both disks aren't rotating in the same direction, the outer gaseous disk is rotating in the opposite direction to the inner one. The inner one also contains more gas and stars. The current hypothesis is that the outer disk was formed when another galaxy collided and merged with M64.

A Hubble Space Telescope close up of the 'black eye' part of galaxy M64. A swirl of star clouds and nebulae can be clearly seen in immaculate clarity.
Image copyright Hubble Heritage Team/NASA
Needle Galaxy (NGC 4565):

Most people have heard of the adage about a needle in a haystack. Well this adage doesn't apply to this galaxy as it is very bright and can even be seen in small telescopes.

The Needle Galaxy is a satisfyingly symmetrical edge on spiral with an abundance of lilac dust covering most of its disk. At the heart of this spiral is a hungry supermassive black hole that is emitting a wild amount of x-rays and because of this the nucleus is considered to be an active galactic nucleus.

What contributes to its amazing needle like appearance is a horizontal dark brown dust lane snaking along the middle of the galaxy. There is also a slight bulge in the core area that is more clearly visible in larger scopes.

NGC 4725:
Rare and uncommonly found, this barred spiral galaxy is only comprised of one single lonely spiral arm. The structure of the main part of the galaxy is ring like and is a site of very active star formation. The ring encircles the bar just like in NGC 2523 in Camelopardalis.
The sprawling spiral structure will make you follow the numerous maze of dust lanes until your gaze penetrates the hypnotic spiral shaped core. The core is the bright part of this galaxy and the spiral arms literally drip with HII regions.

M99 is one of the more prominent spiral galaxies in the Virgo-Coma Galaxy Cluster and was also the second galaxy where its spiral structure was discerned by sharp eyes and keen observations by Lord Rosse in 1846, a year after him discovering the spiral structure of the Whirlpool Galaxy.

M99 is racing towards us at a fantastic speed and this might indicate an encounter with another galaxy in the past.

Elliptical shaped and highly symmetric, M88 is a fabulous tightly wound spiral galaxy. It is tilted at an incline and this adds to its mystique.
NGC 4302 and NGC 4298:
You could say that this pair of galaxies are a galactic odd couple. They both are 60 million light years away and NGC 4302 is an edge on similar in texture to the Sandwich Galaxy in Leo and NGC 4298 is a spiral galaxy similar to NGC 4647 in Virgo.
Coma Galaxy Cluster (Abell 1656):
Like grains of sand scattered on the galactic beach of the universe, Abell 1656 is a large weighty collection of thousands of galaxies. The centre of the cluster is dominated by two supergiant ellipticals, NGC 4889 and NGC 4874. It is known that these two galaxies are supermassive because the galaxy cluster is 400 million light years away and these two galaxies are much larger than the surrounding ones.
The Box (Hickson 61):
This is quartet of galaxies that give the impression of a box shape. The largest galaxy, NGC 4173 is actually not associated with the group and through the magic of line of sight, it is a foreground object. This is a trait found in many compact galaxy groups such as Stephen's Quintet in Pegasus. Because it is closer than the 200 million light year distance of the others, it is also the brightest in the group. The three that are together, two are edge on spirals and one is a lenticular galaxy.
NGC 4651:

Since this nearly face on spiral galaxy is about 40 million light years away, it would be expected to be brighter than magnitude 11 and have a larger apparent size. The general appearance is of a bright yellow core with two spiral arms tapering outwards.

The galaxy is also known as Arp 189, the reason is because of a very elongated tidal tail that requires large telescopes to be seen. Initially this tidal tail was thought of as being an optical jet emitted by the galaxy but more conclusive studies proved this was not the case.

Needle Galaxy    
The magnificent Needle Galaxy is sometimes referred to as Berenice's Hairclip. The nebulae and star clouds are heavily obscured by thick swathes of dust which is why they can't be seen as in other edge on galaxies such as NGC 891.    
Image copyright J. Schedler
        Corona Australis