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.

2011 August 3
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The Leo Triplet Galaxies from VST
Image Credit: ESO, INAF-VST, OmegaCAM;
Acknowledgement: OmegaCen, Astro-WISE, Kapteyn I.

Explanation: This popular group is famous as the Leo Triplet - a gathering of three magnificent galaxies in one field of view. Crowd pleasers when imaged with even modest telescopes, these galaxies can be introduced individually as NGC 3628 (left), M66 (bottom right), and M65 (top right). All three are large spiral galaxies. They tend to look dissimilar because their galactic disks are tilted at different angles to our line of sight. NGC 3628 is seen edge-on, with obscuring dust lanes cutting across the plane of the galaxy, while the disks of M66 and M65 are both inclined enough to show off their spiral structure. Gravitational interactions between galaxies in the group have also left telltale signs, including the warped and inflated disk of NGC 3628 and the drawn out spiral arms of M66. This gorgeous deep view of the region was taken by the new VLT Survey Telescope (VST) and spans about one degree (two full moons) on the sky. The field covers over 500 thousand light-years at the trio's estimated distance of 30 million light-years.

Tomorrow's picture: open space

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