Messier 96 or M96 (also designated NGC 3368) is a spiral galaxy in the constellation Leo. It has an apparent visual magnitude of 9.2 and its angular diameter is 6x4 arc-minutes. M96 lies at an estimated distance of 38 million light years. The Equinox 2000 coordinates are RA= 10h 46.8m, Dec= +11° 49´ which makes M96 best seen during the spring. The Messier Spring Star Chart shows the position of all Messier objects visible during that season.

The image above shows the uncropped view of M96 (left) and M95 (right) through the Takahashi E-180 Astrograph (North is up). A 3x enlargement of this image centered on M96 appears to the right.

This spiral galaxy was discovered by P. Méchain in 1781. The 3rd Earl of Rosse included it in his list of 14 "spiral nebulae" in 1850. M96 is a member of the Leo I group of galaxies, which includes M95, M105 and a number of fainter galaxies. According to Stoyan et al. (2010), the distance of M96 is 34.3 million light years and its diameter is 76,000 light years. Its estimated mass is 80 billion solar masses.

For more information, see the Messier Catalog as well as specific entries for M96 in Wikipedia and SEDS.

Messier's Description of M96

March 24, 1781
`Nebula without star, in the Lion [Leo], near the preceding [No. 95]: this one is less distinct, both are on the same parallel of Regulus: they resemble the two nebulae in the Virgin [Virgo], Nos. 84 and 86. M. Méchain saw them both on March 20, 1781.'

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