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.

November 7, 1999
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The Heart Of NGC 4261
Credit: H. Ford (Johns Hopkins), L. Ferrarese (UCLA), W. Jaffe (Leiden), NASA

Explanation: Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of galaxies? The Hubble knows. This Hubble Space Telescope picture of the center of the nearby elliptical galaxy NGC 4261 tells one dramatic tale. The gas and dust in this disk are swirling 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: Lunation

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