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Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2009 May 29
See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download
 the highest resolution version available.

Messier 106
Credit & Copyright: Ken Crawford (Rancho Del Sol Observatory)

Explanation: Close to the Great Bear (Ursa Major) and surrounded by the stars of the Hunting Dogs (Canes Venatici), this celestial wonder was discovered in 1781 by the metric French astronomer Pierre Mechain. Later, it was added to the catalog of his friend and colleague Charles Messier as M106. Modern deep telescopic views reveal it to be an island universe -- a spiral galaxy around 30 thousand light-years across located only about 21 million light-years beyond the stars of the Milky Way. Along with a bright central core, this colorful composite image highlights youthful blue star clusters and reddish stellar nurseries tracing the galaxy's spiral arms. It also shows remarkable reddish jets of glowing hydrogen gas. In addition to small companion galaxy NGC 4248 near the picture's right edge, background galaxies can be found scattered throughout the frame. M106 (aka NGC 4258) is a nearby example of the Seyfert class of active galaxies, seen across the spectrum from radio to x-rays. Active galaxies are believed to be powered by matter falling into a massive central black hole.


Tomorrow's picture: Beautiful Trifid


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