Astronomy Picture of the Day

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

December 5, 1995
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The Swirling Center of NGC 4261
Credit: NASA, HST, H. Ford and L. Ferrarese, (Johns Hopkins), W. Jaffe, (Leiden)

Explanation: What evil lurks in the hearts of galaxies? The above picture by the Hubble Space Telescope of the center of the nearby galaxy NGC 4261 tells us one dramatic tale. Here gas and dust are seen swirling near this elliptical galaxy's center into what is almost certainly a massive black hole. The disk is probably what remains of a smaller galaxy that fell in hundreds of millions of years ago. Collisions like this may be a common way of creating such active galactic nuclei as quasars. Strangely, the center of this fiery whirlpool is offset from the exact center of the galaxy - for a reason that for now remains an astronomical mystery.

Tomorrow's picture: 24 Hours from Jupiter

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Authors & editors: Robert Nemiroff (GMU) & Jerry Bonnell (USRA).
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