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.

2010 April 15
See Explanation.
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NGC 4651: The Umbrella Galaxy
Image Credit & Copyright: R Jay Gabany (Blackbird Obs.), Collaboration: David Martinez-Delgado (MPIA, IAC), et al.

Explanation: Spiral galaxy NGC 4651 is a mere 35 million light-years distant, toward the well-groomed constellation Coma Berenices. About 50 thousand light-years across, this galaxy is seen to have a faint umbrella-shaped structure (right) that seems to extend some 50 thousand light-years farther, beyond the bright galactic disk. The giant cosmic umbrella is now known to be composed of tidal star streams. The streams themselves are extensive trails of stars gravitationally stripped from a smaller satellite galaxy that was eventually torn apart. Placing your cursor over the image will superimpose a simulation of the satellite galaxy's path as it was disrupted and absorbed into NGC 4651. Recent work by a remarkable collaboration of amateur and professional astronomers to image faint structures around bright galaxies suggests that even in nearby galaxies, such tidal star streams are common. The result is predicted by models of galaxy formation, including the formation of our Milky Way.

Tomorrow's picture: pixels in the sun

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