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Astronomy Picture of the Day
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Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2024 March 27 – The Coma Cluster of Galaxies
Explanation: Almost every object in the featured photograph is a galaxy. The Coma Cluster of Galaxies pictured here is one of the densest clusters known - it contains thousands of galaxies. Each of these galaxies houses billions of stars - just as our own Milky Way Galaxy does. Although nearby when compared to most other clusters, light from the Coma Cluster still takes hundreds of millions of years to reach us. In fact, the Coma Cluster is so big it takes light millions of years just to go from one side to the other. Most galaxies in Coma and other clusters are ellipticals, while most galaxies outside of clusters are spirals. The nature of Coma's X-ray emission is still being investigated.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2024 February 20 – AM1054: Stars Form as Galaxies Collide
Explanation: When galaxies collide, how many stars are born? For AM1054-325, featured here in a recently released image by the Hubble Space Telescope, the answer is millions. Instead of stars being destroyed as galaxy AM1054-325 and a nearby galaxy circle each other, their gravity and motion has ignited stellar creation. Star formation occurs rapidly in the gaseous debris stretching from AM1054-325’s yellowish body due to the other galaxy’s gravitational pull. Hydrogen gas surrounding newborn stars glows pink. Bright infant stars shine blue and cluster together in compact nurseries of thousands to millions of stars. AM1054-325 possesses over 100 of these intense-blue, dot-like star clusters, some appearing like a string of pearls. Analyzing ultraviolet light helped determine that most of these stars are less than 10 million years old: stellar babies. Many of these nurseries may grow up to be globular star clusters, while the bundle of young stars at the bottom tip may even detach and form a small galaxy.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2023 November 8 – Perseus Galaxy Cluster from Euclid
Explanation: There's a new space telescope in the sky: Euclid. Equipped with two large panoramic cameras, Euclid captures light from the visible to the near-infrared. It took five hours of observing for Euclid's 1.2-meter diameter primary mirror to capture, through its sharp optics, the 1000+ galaxies in the Perseus cluster, which lies 250 million light years away. More than 100,000 galaxies are visible in the background, some as far away as 10 billion light years. The revolutionary nature of Euclid lies in the combination of its wide field of view (twice the area of the full moon), its high angular resolution (thanks to its 620 Megapixel camera), and its infrared vision, which captures both images and spectra. Euclid's initial surveys, covering a third of the sky and recording over 2 billion galaxies, will enable a study of how dark matter and dark energy have shaped our universe.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2023 November 2 - The Fornax Cluster of Galaxies
Explanation: Named for the southern constellation toward which most of its galaxies can be found, the Fornax Cluster is one of the closest clusters of galaxies. About 62 million light-years away, it's over 20 times more distant than our neighboring Andromeda Galaxy, but only about 10 percent farther along than the better known and more populated Virgo Galaxy Cluster. Seen across this three degree wide field-of-view, almost every yellowish splotch on the image is an elliptical galaxy in the Fornax cluster. Elliptical galaxies NGC 1399 and NGC 1404 are the dominant, bright cluster members toward the bottom center. A standout, large barred spiral galaxy, NGC 1365, is visible on the upper right as a prominent Fornax cluster member.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2023 September 12 - Galaxy Cluster Abell 370 and Beyond
Explanation: Some 4 billion light-years away, massive galaxy cluster Abell 370 is captured in this sharp Hubble Space Telescope snapshot. The cluster of galaxies only appears to be dominated by two giant elliptical galaxies and infested with faint arcs. In reality, the fainter, scattered bluish arcs, along with the dramatic dragon arc below and left of center, are images of galaxies that lie far beyond Abell 370. About twice as distant, their otherwise undetected light is magnified and distorted by the cluster's enormous gravitational mass, overwhelmingly dominated by unseen dark matter. Providing a tantalizing glimpse of galaxies in the early universe, the effect is known as gravitational lensing. A consequence of warped spacetime, lensing was predicted by Einstein almost a century ago. Far beyond the spiky foreground Milky Way star at lower right, Abell 370 is seen toward the constellation Cetus, the Sea Monster. It was the last of six galaxy clusters imaged in the Frontier Fields project.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2023 July 1 - Three Galaxies in Draco
Explanation: This tantalizing trio of galaxies sometimes called the Draco Group, is located in the northern constellation of (you guessed it) Draco, the Dragon. From left to right are face-on spiral NGC 5985, elliptical galaxy NGC 5982, and edge-on spiral NGC 5981, all found within this single telescopic field of view that spans a little more than the width of the full moon. While the group is far too small to be a galaxy cluster, and has not been catalogued as a compact galaxy group, the three galaxies all do lie roughly 100 million light-years from planet Earth. Not as well known as other tight groupings of galaxies, the contrast in visual appearance still makes this triplet an attractive subject for astroimagers. On close examination with spectrographs, the bright core of striking spiral NGC 5985 shows prominent emission in specific wavelengths of light, prompting astronomers to classify it as a Seyfert, a type of active galaxy. This impressively deep exposure hints at a faint dim halo along with sharp-edged shells surrounding elliptical NGC 5982, evidence of past galactic mergers. It also reveals many even more distant background galaxies.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2023 June 9 - Pandora's Cluster of Galaxies
Explanation: This deep field mosaicked image presents a stunning view of galaxy cluster Abell 2744 recorded by the James Webb Space Telescope's NIRCam. Also dubbed Pandora's Cluster, Abell 2744 itself appears to be a ponderous merger of three different massive galaxy clusters. It lies some 3.5 billion light-years away, toward the constellation Sculptor. Dominated by dark matter, the mega-cluster warps and distorts the fabric of spacetime, gravitationally lensing even more distant objects. Redder than the Pandora cluster galaxies many of the lensed sources are very distant galaxies in the early Universe, their lensed images stretched and distorted into arcs. Of course distinctive diffraction spikes mark foreground Milky Way stars. At the Pandora Cluster's estimated distance this cosmic box spans about 6 million light-years. But don't panic. You can explore the tantalizing region in a 2 minute video tour.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2023 May 26 - Virgo Cluster Galaxies
Explanation: Galaxies of the Virgo Cluster are scattered across this nearly 4 degree wide telescopic field of view. About 50 million light-years distant, the Virgo Cluster is the closest large galaxy cluster to our own local galaxy group. Prominent here are Virgo's bright elliptical galaxies Messier catalog, M87 at bottom center, and M84 and M86 (top to bottom) near top left. M84 and M86 are recognized as part of Markarian's Chain, a visually striking line-up of galaxies on the left side of this frame. Near the middle of the chain lies an intriguing interacting pair of galaxies, NGC 4438 and NGC 4435, known to some as Markarian's Eyes. Of course giant elliptical galaxy M87 dominates the Virgo cluster. It's the home of a super massive black hole, the first black hole ever imaged by planet Earth's Event Horizon Telescope.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2023 February 16 - The Hydra Cluster of Galaxies
Explanation:

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2022 August 4 - M13: The Great Globular Cluster in Hercules
Explanation: In 1716, English astronomer Edmond Halley noted, "This is but a little Patch, but it shows itself to the naked Eye, when the Sky is serene and the Moon absent." Of course, M13 is now less modestly recognized as the Great Globular Cluster in Hercules, one of the brightest globular star clusters in the northern sky. Sharp telescopic views like this one reveal the spectacular cluster's hundreds of thousands of stars. At a distance of 25,000 light-years, the cluster stars crowd into a region 150 light-years in diameter. Approaching the cluster core upwards of 100 stars could be contained in a cube just 3 light-years on a side. For comparison, the closest star to the Sun is over 4 light-years away. The remarkable range of brightness recorded in this image follows stars into the dense cluster core. Distant background galaxies in the medium-wide field of view include NGC 6207 at the upper left.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2022 July 18 - Stephans Quintet from Webb, Hubble, and Subaru
Explanation: OK, but why can't you combine images from Webb and Hubble? You can, and today's featured image shows one impressive result. Although the recently launched James Webb Space Telescope (Webb) has a larger mirror than Hubble, it specializes in infrared light and can't see blue -- only up to about orange. Conversely, the Hubble Space Telescope (Hubble) has a smaller mirror than Webb and can't see as far into the infrared as Webb, but can image not only blue light but even ultraviolet. Therefore, Webb and Hubble data can be combined to create images across a wider variety of colors. The featured image of four galaxies from Stephan's Quintet shows Webb images as red and also includes images taken by Japan's ground-based Subaru telescope in Hawaii. Because image data for Webb, Hubble, and Subaru are made freely available, anyone around the world can process it themselves, and even create intriguing and scientifically useful multi-observatory montages.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2022 July 5 - A Molten Galaxy Einstein Ring Galaxy
Explanation: It is difficult to hide a galaxy behind a cluster of galaxies. The closer cluster's gravity will act like a huge lens, pulling images of the distant galaxy around the sides and greatly distorting them. This is just the case observed in the featured image recently re-processed image from the Hubble Space Telescope. The cluster GAL-CLUS-022058c is composed of many galaxies and is lensing the image of a yellow-red background galaxy into arcs seen around the image center. Dubbed a molten Einstein ring for its unusual shape, four images of the same background galaxy have been identified. Typically, a foreground galaxy cluster can only create such smooth arcs if most of its mass is smoothly distributed -- and therefore not concentrated in the cluster galaxies visible. Analyzing the positions of these gravitational arcs gives astronomers a method to estimate the dark matter distribution in galaxy clusters, as well as infer when the stars in these early galaxies began to form.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2022 June 15 - In the Heart of the Virgo Cluster
Explanation: The Virgo Cluster of Galaxies is the closest cluster of galaxies to our Milky Way Galaxy. The Virgo Cluster is so close that it spans more than 5 degrees on the sky - about 10 times the angle made by a full Moon. With its heart lying about 70 million light years distant, the Virgo Cluster is the nearest cluster of galaxies, contains over 2,000 galaxies, and has a noticeable gravitational pull on the galaxies of the Local Group of Galaxies surrounding our Milky Way Galaxy. The cluster contains not only galaxies filled with stars but also gas so hot it glows in X-rays. Motions of galaxies in and around clusters indicate that they contain more dark matter than any visible matter we can see. Pictured here, the heart of the Virgo Cluster includes bright Messier galaxies such as Markarian's Eyes on the upper left, M86 just to the upper right of center, M84 on the far right, as well as spiral galaxy NGC 4388 at the bottom right.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2022 May 29 - Simulation TNG50: A Galaxy Cluster Forms
Explanation: How do clusters of galaxies form? Since our universe moves too slowly to watch, faster-moving computer simulations are created to help find out. A recent effort is TNG50 from IllustrisTNG, an upgrade of the famous Illustris Simulation. The first part of the featured video tracks cosmic gas (mostly hydrogen) as it evolves into galaxies and galaxy clusters from the early universe to today, with brighter colors marking faster moving gas. As the universe matures, gas falls into gravitational wells, galaxies forms, galaxies spin, galaxies collide and merge, all while black holes form in galaxy centers and expel surrounding gas at high speeds. The second half of the video switches to tracking stars, showing a galaxy cluster coming together complete with tidal tails and stellar streams. The outflow from black holes in TNG50 is surprisingly complex and details are being compared with our real universe. Studying how gas coalesced in the early universe helps humanity better understand how our Earth, Sun, and Solar System originally formed.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2022 January 29 - The Fornax Cluster of Galaxies
Explanation: Named for the southern constellation toward which most of its galaxies can be found, the Fornax Cluster is one of the closest clusters of galaxies. About 62 million light-years away, it is almost 20 times more distant than our neighboring Andromeda Galaxy, and only about 10 percent farther than the better known and more populated Virgo Galaxy Cluster. Seen across this two degree wide field-of-view, almost every yellowish splotch on the image is an elliptical galaxy in the Fornax cluster. Elliptical galaxies NGC 1399 and NGC 1404 are the dominant, bright cluster members toward the upper left (but not the spiky foreground stars). A standout barred spiral galaxy NGC 1365 is visible on the lower right as a prominent Fornax cluster member.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2021 December 18 - Stephan s Quintet
Explanation: The first identified compact galaxy group, Stephan's Quintet is featured in this eye-catching image constructed with data drawn from the extensive Hubble Legacy Archive. About 300 million light-years away, only four of these five galaxies are actually locked in a cosmic dance of repeated close encounters. The odd man out is easy to spot, though. The interacting galaxies, NGC 7319, 7318A, 7318B, and 7317 have an overall yellowish cast. They also tend to have distorted loops and tails, grown under the influence of disruptive gravitational tides. But the predominantly bluish galaxy, NGC 7320, is closer, just 40 million light-years distant, and isn't part of the interacting group. Stephan's Quintet lies within the boundaries of the high flying constellation Pegasus. At the estimated distance of the quartet of interacting galaxies, this field of view spans about 500,000 light-years. But moving just beyond this field, up and to the right, astronomers can identify another galaxy, NGC 7320C, that is also 300 million light-years distant. Including it would bring the interacting quartet back up to quintet status.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2021 November 17 - NGC 3314: When Galaxies Overlap
Explanation: Why doesn't the nearby galaxy create a gravitational lensing effect on the background galaxy? It does, but since both galaxies are so nearby, the angular shift is much smaller than the angular sizes of the galaxies themselves. The featured Hubble image of NGC 3314 shows two large spiral galaxies which happen to line up exactly. The foreground spiral NGC 3314a appears nearly face-on with its pinwheel shape defined by young bright star clusters. Against the glow of the background galaxy NGC 3314b, though, dark swirling lanes of interstellar dust can also be seen tracing the nearer spiral's structure. Both galaxies appear on the edge of the Hydra Cluster of Galaxies, a cluster that is about 200 million light years away. Gravitational lens distortions are much easier to see when the lensing galaxy is smaller and further away. Then, the background galaxy may even be distorted into a ring around the nearer. Fast gravitational lens flashes due to stars in the foreground galaxy momentarily magnifying the light from stars in the background galaxy might one day be visible in future observing campaigns with high-resolution telescopes.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2021 August 23 - Abell 3827: Cannibal Cluster Gravitational Lens
Explanation: Is that one galaxy or three? Toward the right of the featured Hubble image of the massive galaxy cluster Abell 3827 is what appears to be a most unusual galaxy -- curved and with three centers. A detailed analysis, however, finds that these are three images of the same background galaxy -- and that there are at least four more images. Light we see from the single background blue galaxy takes multiple paths through the complex gravity of the cluster, just like a single distant light can take multiple paths through the stem of a wine glass. Studying how clusters like Abell 3827 and their component galaxies deflect distant light gives information about how mass and dark matter are distributed. Abell 3827 is so distant, having a redshift of 0.1, that the light we see from it left about 1.3 billion years ago -- before dinosaurs roamed the Earth. Therefore, the cluster's central galaxies have now surely all coalesced -- in a feast of galactic cannibalism -- into one huge galaxy near the cluster's center.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2021 May 22 - Markarian's Chain
Explanation: Near the heart of the Virgo Galaxy Cluster the string of galaxies known as Markarian's Chain stretches across this deep telescopic field of view. Anchored in the frame at bottom center by prominent lenticular galaxies, M84 (bottom) and M86, you can follow the chain up and to the right. Near center you'll spot the pair of interacting galaxies NGC 4438 and NGC 4435, known to some as Markarian's Eyes. Its center an estimated 50 million light-years distant, the Virgo Cluster itself is the nearest galaxy cluster. With up to about 2,000 member galaxies, it has a noticeable gravitational influence on our own Local Group of Galaxies. Within the Virgo Cluster at least seven galaxies in Markarian's Chain appear to move coherently, although others may appear to be part of the chain by chance.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2021 May 20 - M13: The Great Globular Cluster in Hercules
Explanation: In 1716, English astronomer Edmond Halley noted, "This is but a little Patch, but it shews itself to the naked Eye, when the Sky is serene and the Moon absent." Of course, M13 is now less modestly recognized as the Great Globular Cluster in Hercules, one of the brightest globular star clusters in the northern sky. Sharp telescopic views like this one reveal the spectacular cluster's hundreds of thousands of stars. At a distance of 25,000 light-years, the cluster stars crowd into a region 150 light-years in diameter. Approaching the cluster core upwards of 100 stars could be contained in a cube just 3 light-years on a side. For comparison, the closest star to the Sun is over 4 light-years away. The remarkable range of brightness recorded in this image follows stars into the dense cluster core. Distant background galaxies in the medium-wide field of view include NGC 6207 at the lower right.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2020 December 16 - Sonified: The Matter of the Bullet Cluster
Explanation: What's the matter with the Bullet Cluster? This massive cluster of galaxies (1E 0657-558) creates gravitational lens distortions of background galaxies in a way that has been interpreted as strong evidence for the leading theory: that dark matter exists within. Different analyses, though, indicate that a less popular alternative -- modifying gravity-- could explain cluster dynamics without dark matter, and provide a more likely progenitor scenario as well. Currently, the two scientific hypotheses are competing to explain the observations: it's invisible matter versus amended gravity. The duel is dramatic as a clear Bullet-proof example of dark matter would shatter the simplicity of modified gravity theories. The featured sonified image is a Hubble/Chandra/Magellan composite with red depicting the X-rays emitted by hot gas, and blue depicting the suggested separated dark matter distribution. The sonification assigns low tones to dark matter, mid-range frequencies to visible light, and high tones to X-rays. The battle over the matter in the Bullet cluster is likely to continue as more observations, computer simulations, and analyses are completed.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2020 December 1 - NGC 346: Star Forming Cluster in the SMC
Explanation: Are stars still forming in the Milky Way's satellite galaxies? Found among the Small Magellanic Cloud's (SMC's) clusters and nebulas, NGC 346 is a star forming region about 200 light-years across, pictured here in the center of a Hubble Space Telescope image. A satellite galaxy of the Milky Way, the Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC) is a wonder of the southern sky, a mere 210,000 light-years distant in the constellation of the Toucan (Tucana). Exploring NGC 346, astronomers have identified a population of embryonic stars strung along the dark, intersecting dust lanes visible here on the right. Still collapsing within their natal clouds, the stellar infants' light is reddened by the intervening dust. Toward the top of the frame is another star cluster with intrinsically older and redder stars. A small, irregular galaxy, the SMC itself represents a type of galaxy more common in the early Universe. These small galaxies, though, are thought to be building blocks for the larger galaxies present today.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2020 November 7 - The Hercules Cluster of Galaxies
Explanation: These are galaxies of the Hercules Cluster, an archipelago of island universes a mere 500 million light-years away. Also known as Abell 2151, this cluster is loaded with gas and dust rich, star-forming spiral galaxies but has relatively few elliptical galaxies, which lack gas and dust and the associated newborn stars. The colors in this deep composite image clearly show the star forming galaxies with a blue tint and galaxies with older stellar populations with a yellowish cast. The sharp picture spans about 1/2 degree across the cluster center, corresponding to over 4 million light-years at the cluster's estimated distance. Diffraction spikes around brighter foreground stars in our own Milky Way galaxy are produced by the imaging telescope's mirror support vanes. In the cosmic vista many galaxies seem to be colliding or merging while others seem distorted - clear evidence that cluster galaxies commonly interact. In fact, the Hercules Cluster itself may be seen as the result of ongoing mergers of smaller galaxy clusters and is thought to be similar to young galaxy clusters in the much more distant, early Universe.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2020 October 15 - Galaxies in Pegasus
Explanation: This sharp telescopic view reveals galaxies scattered beyond the stars of the Milky Way, at the northern boundary of the high-flying constellation Pegasus. Prominent at the upper right is NGC 7331. A mere 50 million light-years away, the large spiral is one of the brighter galaxies not included in Charles Messier's famous 18th century catalog. The disturbed looking group of galaxies at the lower left is well-known as Stephan's Quintet. About 300 million light-years distant, the quintet dramatically illustrates a multiple galaxy collision, its powerful, ongoing interactions posed for a brief cosmic snapshot. On the sky, the quintet and NGC 7331 are separated by about half a degree.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2020 October 10 - Virgo Cluster Galaxies
Explanation: Galaxies of the Virgo Cluster are scattered across this deep telescopic field of view. The cosmic scene spans about three Full Moons, captured in dark skies near Jalisco, Mexico, planet Earth. About 50 million light-years distant, the Virgo Cluster is the closest large galaxy cluster to our own local galaxy group. Prominent here are Virgo's bright elliptical galaxies from the Messier catalog, M87 at the top left, and M84 and M86 seen (bottom to top) below and right of center. M84 and M86 are recognized as part of Markarian's Chain, a visually striking line-up of galaxies vertically on the right side of this frame. Near the middle of the chain lies an intriguing interacting pair of galaxies, NGC 4438 and NGC 4435, known to some as Markarian's Eyes. Of course giant elliptical galaxy M87 dominates the Virgo cluster. It's the home of a super massive black hole, the first black hole ever imaged by planet Earth's Event Horizon Telescope.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2020 March 19 - M13: The Great Globular Cluster in Hercules
Explanation: In 1716, English astronomer Edmond Halley noted, "This is but a little Patch, but it shews itself to the naked Eye, when the Sky is serene and the Moon absent." Of course, M13 is now less modestly recognized as the Great Globular Cluster in Hercules, one of the brightest globular star clusters in the northern sky. Sharp telescopic views like this one reveal the spectacular cluster's hundreds of thousands of stars. At a distance of 25,000 light-years, the cluster stars crowd into a region 150 light-years in diameter. Approaching the cluster core upwards of 100 stars could be contained in a cube just 3 light-years on a side. For comparison, the closest star to the Sun is over 4 light-years away. The remarkable range of brightness recorded in this image follows stars into the dense cluster core and reveals three subtle dark lanes forming the apparent shape of a propeller just below and slightly left of center. Distant background galaxies in the medium-wide field of view include NGC 6207 at the upper left.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2019 June 3 - Stephan's Quintet from Hubble
Explanation: When did these big galaxies first begin to dance? Really only four of the five of Stephan's Quintet are locked in a cosmic tango of repeated close encounters taking place some 300 million light-years away. The odd galaxy out is easy to spot in this recently reprocessed image by the Hubble Space Telescope -- the interacting galaxies, NGC 7319, 7318B, 7318A, and 7317 (left to right), have a more dominant yellowish cast. They also tend to have distorted loops and tails, grown under the influence of disruptive gravitational tides. The mostly bluish galaxy, large NGC 7320 on the lower left, is in the foreground at about 40 million light-years distant, and so is not part of the interacting group. Data and modeling indicate that NGC 7318B is a relatively new intruder. A recently-discovered halo of old red stars surrounding Stephan's Quintet indicate that at least some of these galaxies started tangling over a billion years. Stephan's Quintet is visible with a moderate sized-telescope toward the constellation of Winged Horse (Pegasus).

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2019 March 31 - Markarian's Chain of Galaxies
Explanation: Across the heart of the Virgo Cluster of Galaxies lies a striking string of galaxies known as Markarian's Chain. The chain, pictured here, is highlighted on the right with two large but featureless lenticular galaxies, M84 and M86. Prominent to their lower left is a pair of interacting galaxies known as The Eyes. The home Virgo Cluster is the nearest cluster of galaxies, contains over 2000 galaxies, and has a noticeable gravitational pull on the galaxies of the Local Group of Galaxies surrounding our Milky Way Galaxy. The center of the Virgo Cluster is located about 70 million light years away toward the constellation of Virgo. At least seven galaxies in the chain appear to move coherently, although others appear to be superposed by chance.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2019 March 19 - Abell 370: Galaxy Cluster Gravitational Lens
Explanation: What are those strange arcs? While imaging the cluster of galaxies Abell 370, astronomers noticed an unusual arc. The arc wasn't understood right away -- not until better images showed that the arc was a previously unseen type of astrophysical artifact of a gravitational lens, where the lens was the center of an entire cluster of galaxies. Today, we know that this arc, the brightest arc in the cluster, actually consists of two distorted images of a fairly normal galaxy that happens to lie far in the distance. Abell 370's gravity caused the background galaxies' light -- and others -- to spread out and come to the observer along multiple paths, not unlike a distant light appears through the stem of a wine glass. Almost all of the yellow images featured here are galaxies in the Abell 370 cluster. An astute eye can pick up many strange arcs and distorted arclets, however, that are actually gravitationally lensed images of distant normal galaxies. Studying Abell 370 and its images gives astronomers a unique window into the distribution of normal and dark matter in galaxy clusters and the universe.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2019 February 26 - Simulation TNG50: A Galaxy Cluster Forms
Explanation: How do clusters of galaxies form? Since our universe moves too slowly to watch, faster-moving computer simulations are created to help find out. A recent effort is TNG50 from IllustrisTNG, an upgrade of the famous Illustris Simulation. The first part of the featured video tracks cosmic gas (mostly hydrogen) as it evolves into galaxies and galaxy clusters from the early universe to today, with brighter colors marking faster moving gas. As the universe matures, gas falls into gravitational wells, galaxies forms, galaxies spin, galaxies collide and merge, all while black holes form in galaxy centers and expel surrounding gas at high speeds. The second half of the video switches to tracking stars, showing a galaxy cluster coming together complete with tidal tails and stellar streams. The outflow from black holes in TNG50 is surprisingly complex and details are being compared with our real universe. Studying how gas coalesced in the early universe helps humanity better understand how our Earth, Sun, and Solar System originally formed.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2019 February 1 - Twin Galaxies in Virgo
Explanation: Spiral galaxy pair NGC 4567 and NGC 4568 share this sharp cosmic vista with lonely elliptical galaxy NGC 4564. All are members of the large Virgo Galaxy Cluster. With their classic spiral arms, dust lanes, and star clusters, the eye-catching spiral pair is also known as the Butterfly Galaxies. Very close together, the galaxy twins don't seem to be too distorted by gravitational tides. Their giant molecular clouds are known to be colliding though and are likely fueling the formation of massive star clusters. The galaxy twins are about 52 million light-years distant, while their bright cores appear separated by about 20,000 light-years. Of course, the spiky foreground stars lie within our own Milky Way.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2018 August 14 - M86 in the Central Virgo Cluster
Explanation: Is there a bridge of gas connecting these two great galaxies? Quite possibly, but it is hard to be sure. M86 on the upper left is a giant elliptical galaxy near the center of the nearby Virgo Cluster of galaxies. Our Milky Way Galaxy is falling toward the Virgo Cluster, located about 50 million light years away. To the lower right of M86 is unusual spiral galaxy NGC 4438, which, together with angular neighbor NGC 4435, are known as the Eyes Galaxies (also Arp 120). Featured here is one of the deeper images yet taken of the region, indicating that red-glowing gas surrounds M86 and seemingly connects it to NGC 4438. The image spans about the size of the full moon. It is also known, however, that cirrus gas in our own Galaxy is superposed in front of the Virgo cluster, and observations of the low speed of this gas seem more consistent with this Milky Way origin hypothesis. A definitive answer may come from future research, which may also resolve how the extended blue arms of NGC 4438 were created.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2018 May 25 - Galaxies Away
Explanation: This stunning group of galaxies is far, far away, about 450 million light-years from planet Earth and cataloged as galaxy cluster Abell S0740. Dominated by the cluster's large central elliptical galaxy (ESO 325-G004), this reprocessed Hubble Space Telescope view takes in a remarkable assortment of galaxy shapes and sizes with only a few spiky foreground stars scattered through the field. The giant elliptical galaxy (right of center) spans over 100,000 light years and contains about 100 billion stars, comparable in size to our own spiral Milky Way galaxy. The Hubble data can reveal a wealth of detail in even these distant galaxies, including arms and dust lanes, star clusters, ring structures, and gravitational lensing arcs.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2018 March 26 - The Coma Cluster of Galaxies
Explanation: Almost every object in the above photograph is a galaxy. The Coma Cluster of Galaxies pictured here is one of the densest clusters known - it contains thousands of galaxies. Each of these galaxies houses billions of stars - just as our own Milky Way Galaxy does. Although nearby when compared to most other clusters, light from the Coma Cluster still takes hundreds of millions of years to reach us. In fact, the Coma Cluster is so big it takes light millions of years just to go from one side to the other. Most galaxies in Coma and other clusters are ellipticals, while most galaxies outside of clusters are spirals. The nature of Coma's X-ray emission is still being investigated.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2017 June 24 - Markarian's Chain to Messier 64
Explanation: Top to bottom, this colorful and broad telescopic mosaic links Markarian's Chain of galaxies across the core of the Virgo Cluster to dusty spiral galaxy Messier 64. Galaxies are scattered through the field of view that spans some 20 full moons across a gorgeous night sky. The cosmic frame is also filled with foreground stars from constellations Virgo and the well-groomed Coma Berenices, and faint, dusty nebulae drifting above the plane of the Milky Way. Look carefully for Markarian's eyes. The famous pair of interacting galaxies is near the top, not far from M87, the Virgo cluster's giant elliptical galaxy. At the bottom, you can stare down Messier 64, also known as the Black Eye Galaxy. The Virgo Cluster is the closest large galaxy cluster to our own local galaxy group. Virgo Cluster galaxies are about 50 million light-years distant, but M64 lies a mere 17 million light-years away.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2017 May 6 - Galaxy Cluster Abell 370 and Beyond
Explanation: Some 4 billion light-years away, massive galaxy cluster Abell 370 only appears to be dominated by two giant elliptical galaxies and infested with faint arcs in this sharp Hubble Space Telescope snapshot. The fainter, scattered bluish arcs along with the dramatic dragon arc below and left of center are images of galaxies that lie far beyond Abell 370. About twice as distant, their otherwise undetected light is magnified and distorted by the cluster's enormous gravitational mass, dominated by unseen dark matter. Providing a tantalizing glimpse of galaxies in the early universe, the effect is known as gravitational lensing. A consequence of warped spacetime it was first predicted by Einstein a century ago. Far beyond the spiky foreground Milky Way star at lower right, Abell 370 is seen toward the constellation Cetus, the Sea Monster. It is the last of six galaxy clusters imaged in the recently concluded Frontier Fields project.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2017 May 4 - The Perseus Cluster Waves
Explanation: The cosmic swirl and slosh of giant waves in an enormous reservoir of glowing hot gas are traced in this enhanced X-ray image from the Chandra Observatory. The frame spans over 1 million light-years across the center of the nearby Perseus Galaxy Cluster, some 240 million light-years distant. Like other clusters of galaxies, most of the observable mass in the Perseus cluster is in the form of the cluster-filling gas. With temperatures in the tens of millions of degrees, the gas glows brightly in X-rays. Computer simulations can reproduce details of the structures sloshing through the Perseus cluster's X-ray hot gas, including the remarkable concave bay seen below and left of center. About 200,000 light-years across, twice the size of the Milky Way, the bay's formation indicates that Perseus itself was likely grazed by a smaller galaxy cluster billions of years ago.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2017 April 10 - Galaxy Cluster Gas Creates Hole in Microwave Background
Explanation: Why would this cluster of galaxy punch a hole in the cosmic microwave background (CMB)? First, the famous CMB was created by cooling gas in the early universe and flies right through most gas and dust in the universe. It is all around us. Large clusters of galaxies have enough gravity to contain very hot gas -- gas hot enough to up-scatter microwave photons into light of significantly higher energy, thereby creating a hole in CMB maps. This SunyaevZel'dovich (SZ) effect has been used for decades to reveal new information about hot gas in clusters and even to help discover galaxy clusters in a simple yet uniform way. Pictured is the most detailed image yet obtained of the SZ effect, now using both ALMA to measure the CMB and the Hubble Space Telescope to measure the galaxies in the massive galaxy cluster RX J1347.5-1145. False-color blue depicts light from the CMB, while almost every yellow object is a galaxy. The shape of the SZ hole indicates not only that hot gas is present in this galaxy cluster, but also that it is distributed in a surprisingly uneven manner.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2017 March 10 - Galaxy Cluster Abell 2666
Explanation: The galaxies of Abell 2666 lie far beyond the Milky Way, some 340 million light-years distant toward the high flying constellation Pegasus. Framed in this sharp telescopic image, the pretty cluster galaxies are gathered behind scattered, spiky, Milky Way stars. At cluster center is giant elliptical galaxy NGC 7768, the central dominant galaxy of the cluster. As the cluster forms, such massive galaxies are thought to grow by mergers of galaxies that fall through the center of the cluster's gravitational well. Typical of dominant cluster galaxies, NGC 7768 likely harbors a supermassive black hole. At the estimated distance of Abell 2666, this cosmic frame would span about 5 million light-years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2017 February 2 - NGC 1316: After Galaxies Collide
Explanation: An example of violence on a cosmic scale, enormous elliptical galaxy NGC 1316 lies about 75 million light-years away toward Fornax, the southern constellation of the Furnace. Investigating the startling sight, astronomers suspect the giant galaxy of colliding with smaller neighbor NGC 1317 seen just above, causing far flung loops and shells of stars. Light from their close encounter would have reached Earth some 100 million years ago. In the deep, sharp image, the central regions of NGC 1316 and NGC 1317 appear separated by over 100,000 light-years. Complex dust lanes visible within also indicate that NGC 1316 is itself the result of a merger of galaxies in the distant past. Found on the outskirts of the Fornax galaxy cluster, NGC 1316 is known as Fornax A. One of the visually brightest of the Fornax cluster galaxies it is one of the strongest and largest radio sources with radio emission extending well beyond this telescopic field-of-view, over several degrees on the sky.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2017 January 15 - The Matter of the Bullet Cluster
Explanation: What's the matter with the Bullet Cluster? This massive cluster of galaxies (1E 0657-558) creates gravitational lens distortions of background galaxies in a way that has been interpreted as strong evidence for the leading theory: that dark matter exists within. Different recent analyses, though, indicate that a less popular alternative -- modifying gravity-- could explain cluster dynamics without dark matter, and provide a more likely progenitor scenario as well. Currently, the two scientific hypotheses are competing to explain the observations: it's invisible matter versus amended gravity. The duel is dramatic as a clear Bullet-proof example of dark matter would shatter the simplicity of modified gravity theories. For the near future, the battle over the Bullet cluster is likely to continue as new observations, computer simulations, and analyses are completed. The featured image is a Hubble/Chandra/Magellan composite with red depicting the X-rays emitted by hot gas, and blue depicting the suggested separated dark matter distribution.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2016 December 3 - Galaxies in Pegasus
Explanation: This wide, sharp telescopic view reveals galaxies scattered beyond the stars of the Milky Way at the northern boundary of the high-flying constellation Pegasus. Prominent at the upper right is NGC 7331. A mere 50 million light-years away, the large spiral is one of the brighter galaxies not included in Charles Messier's famous 18th century catalog. The disturbed looking group of galaxies at the lower left is well-known as Stephan's Quintet. About 300 million light-years distant, the quintet dramatically illustrates a multiple galaxy collision, its powerful, ongoing interactions posed for a brief cosmic snapshot. On the sky, the quintet and NGC 7331 are separated by about half a degree.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2016 November 6 - Starburst Cluster in NGC 3603
Explanation: A mere 20,000 light-years from the Sun lies NGC 3603, a resident of the nearby Carina spiral arm of our Milky Way Galaxy. NGC 3603 is well known to astronomers as one of the Milky Way's largest star-forming regions. The central open star cluster contains thousands of stars more massive than our Sun, stars that likely formed only one or two million years ago in a single burst of star formation. In fact, nearby NGC 3603 is thought to contain a convenient example of the massive star clusters that populate much more distant starburst galaxies. Surrounding the cluster are natal clouds of glowing interstellar gas and obscuring dust, sculpted by energetic stellar radiation and winds. Recorded by the Hubble Space Telescope, the image spans about 17 light-years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2016 October 18 - The Antlia Cluster of Galaxies
Explanation: Galaxies dot the sky in this impressively wide and deep image of the Antlia Cluster. The third closest cluster of galaxies to Earth after Virgo and Fornax, the Antlia cluster is known for its compactness and its high fraction of elliptical galaxies over (spirals. Antlia, cataloged as Abell S0636, spans about 2 million light years and lies about 130 million light years away toward the constellation of the Air Pump (Antlia). The cluster has two prominent galaxy groups - bottom center and upper left -- among its over 200 galactic members, but no single central dominant galaxy. The vertical red ribbon of gas on the left is thought related to the foreground Antlia supernova remnant and not associated with the cluster. The featured image composite, taken from New Zealand, resulted from 150+ hours of exposures taken over six months.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2016 August 28 - Abell 370: Galaxy Cluster Gravitational Lens
Explanation: What is that strange arc? While imaging the cluster of galaxies Abell 370, astronomers had noted an unusual arc to the right of many cluster galaxies. Although curious, one initial response was to avoid commenting on the arc because nothing like it had ever been noted before. In the mid-1980s, however, better images allowed astronomers to identify the arc as a prototype of a new kind of astrophysical phenomenon -- the gravitational lens effect of entire cluster of galaxies on background galaxies. Today, we know that this arc actually consists of two distorted images of a fairly normal galaxy that happened to lie far behind the huge cluster. Abell 370's gravity caused the background galaxies' light -- and others -- to spread out and come to the observer along multiple paths, not unlike a distant light appears through the stem of a wine glass. In mid-July of 2009, astronomers used the then just-upgraded Hubble Space Telescope to image Abell 370 and its gravitational lens images in unprecedented detail. Almost all of the yellow images featured here are galaxies in the Abell 370 cluster. An astute eye can pick up many strange arcs and distorted arclets, however, that are actually images of more distant galaxies. Studying Abell 370 and its images gives astronomers a unique window into the distribution of normal and dark matter in galaxy clusters and the universe.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2016 August 10 - Colliding Galaxies in Stephans Quintet
Explanation: Will either of these galaxies survive? In what might be dubbed as a semi-final round in a galactic elimination tournament, the two spirals of NGC 7318 are colliding. The featured picture was created from images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. When galaxies crash into each other, many things may happen including gravitational distortion, gas condensing to produce new episodes of star formation, and ultimately the two galaxies combining into one. Since these two galaxies are part of Stephan's Quintet, a final round of battling galaxies will likely occur over the next few billion years with the eventual result of many scattered stars and one large galaxy. Quite possibly, the remaining galaxy will not be easily identified with any of its initial galactic components. Stephan's Quintet was the first identified galaxy group, lies about 300 million light years away, and is visible through a moderately-sized telescope toward the constellation of the Winged Horse (Pegasus).

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2016 July 22 - Galaxy Cluster Abell S1063 and Beyond
Explanation: Some 4 billion light-years away, galaxies of massive Abell S1063 cluster near the center of this sharp Hubble Space Telescope snapshot. But the fainter bluish arcs are magnified images of galaxies that lie far beyond Abell S1063. About twice as distant, their otherwise undetected light is magnified and distorted by the cluster's largely unseen gravitational mass, approximately 100 trillion times the mass of the Sun. Providing a tantalizing glimpse of galaxies in the early universe, the effect is known as gravitational lensing. A consequence of warped spacetime it was first predicted by Einstein a century ago. The Hubble image is part of the Frontier Fields program to explore the Final Frontier.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2016 June 11 - The Fornax Cluster of Galaxies
Explanation: Named for the southern constellation toward which most of its galaxies can be found, the Fornax Cluster is one of the closest clusters of galaxies. About 62 million light-years away, it is almost 20 times more distant than our neighboring Andromeda Galaxy, and only about 10 percent further than the better known and more populated Virgo Galaxy Cluster. Seen across this two degree wide field-of-view, almost every yellowish splotch on the image is an elliptical galaxy in the Fornax cluster. A standout barred spiral galaxy NGC 1365 is visible on the lower right as a prominent Fornax cluster member. The spectacular image was taken by the VLT Survey Telescope at ESO's Paranal Observatory.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 August 23 - Giant Cluster Bends Breaks Images
Explanation: What are those strange blue objects? Many of the brightest blue images are of a single, unusual, beaded, blue, ring-like galaxy which just happens to line-up behind a giant cluster of galaxies. Cluster galaxies here typically appear yellow and -- together with the cluster's dark matter -- act as a gravitational lens. A gravitational lens can create several images of background galaxies, analogous to the many points of light one would see while looking through a wine glass at a distant street light. The distinctive shape of this background galaxy -- which is probably just forming -- has allowed astronomers to deduce that it has separate images at 4, 10, 11, and 12 o'clock, from the center of the cluster. A blue smudge near the cluster center is likely another image of the same background galaxy. In all, a recent analysis postulated that at least 33 images of 11 separate background galaxies are discernable. This spectacular photo of galaxy cluster CL0024+1654 from the Hubble Space Telescope was taken in November 2004.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 August 4 - Virgo Cluster Galaxies
Explanation: Well over a thousand galaxies are known members of the Virgo Cluster, the closest large cluster of galaxies to our own local group. In fact, the galaxy cluster is difficult to appreciate all at once because it covers such a large area on the sky. This careful wide-field mosaic of telescopic images clearly records the central region of the Virgo Cluster through faint foreground dust clouds lingering above the plane of our own Milky Way galaxy. The cluster's dominant giant elliptical galaxy M87, is just below and to the left of the frame center. To the right of M87 is a string of galaxies known as Markarian's Chain. A closer examination of the image will reveal many Virgo cluster member galaxies as small fuzzy patches. Sliding your cursor over the image will label the larger galaxies using NGC catalog designations. Galaxies are also shown with Messier catalog numbers, including M84, M86, and prominent colorful spirals M88, M90, and M91. On average, Virgo Cluster galaxies are measured to be about 48 million light-years away. The Virgo Cluster distance has been used to give an important determination of the Hubble Constant and the scale of the Universe.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 April 7 - In the Heart of the Virgo Cluster
Explanation: The Virgo Cluster of Galaxies is the closest cluster of galaxies to our Milky Way Galaxy. The Virgo Cluster is so close that it spans more than 5 degrees on the sky - about 10 times the angle made by a full Moon. With its heart lying about 70 million light years distant, the Virgo Cluster is the nearest cluster of galaxies, contains over 2,000 galaxies, and has a noticeable gravitational pull on the galaxies of the Local Group of Galaxies surrounding our Milky Way Galaxy. The cluster contains not only galaxies filled with stars but also gas so hot it glows in X-rays. Motions of galaxies in and around clusters indicate that they contain more dark matter than any visible matter we can see. Pictured above, the heart of the Virgo Cluster includes bright Messier galaxies such as Markarian's Eyes on the upper left, M86 just to the upper right of center, M84 on the far right, as well as spiral galaxy NGC 4388 at the bottom right.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 April 6 - NGC 3293: A Bright Young Star Cluster
Explanation: Hot blue stars shine brightly in this beautiful, recently formed galactic or "open" star cluster. Open cluster NGC 3293 is located in the constellation Carina, lies at a distance of about 8000 light years, and has a particularly high abundance of these young bright stars. A study of NGC 3293 implies that the blue stars are only about 6 million years old, whereas the cluster's dimmer, redder stars appear to be about 20 million years old. If true, star formation in this open cluster took at least 15 million years. Even this amount of time is short, however, when compared with the billions of years stars like our Sun live, and the over-ten billion year lifetimes of many galaxies and our universe. Pictured, NGC 3293 appears just in front of a dense dust lane and red glowing hydrogen gas emanating from the Carina Nebula.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 March 1 - Inside the Coma Cluster of Galaxies
Explanation: Almost every object in the above photograph is a galaxy. The Coma Cluster of Galaxies pictured above is one of the densest clusters known - it contains thousands of galaxies. Each of these galaxies houses billions of stars - just as our own Milky Way Galaxy does. Although nearby when compared to most other clusters, light from the Coma Cluster still takes hundreds of millions of years to reach us. In fact, the Coma Cluster is so big it takes light millions of years just to go from one side to the other! The above mosaic of images of a small portion of Coma was taken in unprecedented detail in 2006 by the Hubble Space Telescope to investigate how galaxies in rich clusters form and evolve. Most galaxies in Coma and other clusters are ellipticals, although some imaged here are clearly spirals. The spiral galaxy on the upper left of the above image can also be found as one of the bluer galaxies on the upper left of this wider field image. In the background thousands of unrelated galaxies are visible far across the universe.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2014 October 23 - Galaxies in Pegasus
Explanation: This wide, sharp telescopic view reveals galaxies scattered beyond the stars and faint dust nebulae of the Milky Way at the northern boundary of the high-flying constellation Pegasus. Prominent at the upper right is NGC 7331. A mere 50 million light-years away, the large spiral is one of the brighter galaxies not included in Charles Messier's famous 18th century catalog. The disturbed looking group of galaxies at the lower left is well-known as Stephan's Quintet. About 300 million light-years distant, the quintet dramatically illustrates a multiple galaxy collision, its powerful, ongoing interactions posed for a brief cosmic snapshot. On the sky, the quintet and NGC 7331 are separated by about half a degree.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2014 September 10 - Laniakea: Our Home Supercluster of Galaxies
Explanation: It is not only one of the largest structures known -- it is our home. The just-identified Laniakea Supercluster of galaxies contains thousands of galaxies that includes our Milky Way Galaxy, the Local Group of galaxies, and the entire nearby Virgo Cluster of Galaxies. The colossal supercluster is shown in the above computer-generated visualization, where green areas are rich with white-dot galaxies and white lines indicate motion towards the supercluster center. An outline of Laniakea is given in orange, while the blue dot shows our location. Outside the orange line, galaxies flow into other galactic concentrations. The Laniakea Supercluster spans about 500 million light years and contains about 100,000 times the mass of our Milky Way Galaxy. The discoverers of Laniakea gave it a name that means "immense heaven" in Hawaiian.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2014 July 15 - A Blue Bridge of Stars between Cluster Galaxies
Explanation: Why is there a blue bridge of stars across the center of this galaxy cluster? First and foremost the cluster, designated SDSS J1531+3414, contains many large yellow elliptical galaxies. The cluster's center, as pictured above by the Hubble Space Telescope, is surrounded by many unusual, thin, and curving blue filaments that are actually galaxies far in the distance whose images have become magnified and elongated by the gravitational lens effect of the massive cluster. More unusual, however, is a squiggly blue filament near the two large elliptical galaxies at the cluster center. Close inspection of the filament indicates that it is most likely a bridge created by tidal effects between the two merging central elliptical galaxies rather than a background galaxy with an image distorted by gravitational lensing. The knots in the bridge are condensation regions that glow blue from the light of massive young stars. The central cluster region will likely undergo continued study as its uniqueness makes it an interesting laboratory of star formation.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2014 June 25 - The Hercules Cluster of Galaxies
Explanation: These are galaxies of the Hercules Cluster, an archipelago of island universes a mere 500 million light-years away. Also known as Abell 2151, this cluster is loaded with gas and dust rich, star-forming spiral galaxies but has relatively few elliptical galaxies, which lack gas and dust and the associated newborn stars. The colors in this remarkably deep composite image clearly show the star forming galaxies with a blue tint and galaxies with older stellar populations with a yellowish cast. The sharp picture spans about 3/4 degree across the cluster center, corresponding to over 6 million light-years at the cluster's estimated distance. Diffraction spikes around brighter foreground stars in our own Milky Way galaxy are produced by the imaging telescope's mirror support vanes. In the cosmic vista many galaxies seem to be colliding or merging while others seem distorted - clear evidence that cluster galaxies commonly interact. In fact, the Hercules Cluster itself may be seen as the result of ongoing mergers of smaller galaxy clusters and is thought to be similar to young galaxy clusters in the much more distant, early Universe.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2014 May 5 - Galaxy Cluster Magnifies Distant Supernova
Explanation: How do you calibrate a huge gravitational lens? In this case the lens is the galaxy cluster Abell 383, a massive conglomeration of galaxies, hot gas, and dark matter that lies about 2.5 billion light years away (redshift z=0.187). What needs calibrating is the mass of the cluster, in particular the amount and distribution of dark matter. A new calibration technique has been tested recently that consists of waiting for supernovas of a very specific type to occur behind a galaxy cluster, and then figuring out how much the cluster must have magnified these supernovas through gravitational lensing. This technique complements other measures including computing the dark matter needed to contain internal galaxy motions, to confine cluster hot gas, and to create the gravitational lens image distortions. Pictured above from the Hubble Space Telescope, galaxy cluster A383 shows its gravitational lens capabilities on the right by highly distorting background galaxies behind the cluster center. On the left is a distant galaxy shown both before and after a recent revealing supernova. To date, calibration-quality supernovas of Type Ia have been found behind two other galaxy clusters by the Cluster Lensing And Supernova survey with Hubble (CLASH) project.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2014 April 22 - The El Gordo Massive Galaxy Cluster
Explanation: It is bigger than a bread box. In fact, it is much bigger than all bread boxes put together. Galaxy cluster ACT-CL J0102-4915 is one of the largest and most massive objects known. Dubbed "El Gordo", the seven billion light years (z = 0.87) distant galaxy cluster spans about seven million light years and holds the mass of a million billion Suns. The above image of El Gordo is a composite of a visible light image from the Hubble Space Telescope, an X-ray image from the Chandra Observatory showing the hot gas in pink, and a computer generated map showing the most probable distribution of dark matter in blue, computed from gravitational lens distortions of background galaxies. Almost all of the bright spots are galaxies. The blue dark matter distribution indicates that the cluster is in the middle stages of a collision between two large galaxy clusters. A careful inspection of the image will reveal a nearly vertical galaxy that appears unusually long. That galaxy is actually far in the background and has its image stretched by the gravitational lens action of the massive cluster.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2014 March 27 - Stephan's Quintet Plus One
Explanation: The first identified compact galaxy group, Stephan's Quintet is featured in this remarkable image constructed with data drawn from Hubble Legacy Archive and the Subaru Telescope on the summit of Mauna Kea. The galaxies of the quintet are gathered near the center of the field, but really only four of the five are locked in a cosmic dance of repeated close encounters taking place some 300 million light-years away. The odd man out is easy to spot, though. The interacting galaxies, NGC 7319, 7318A, 7318B, and 7317 have a more dominant yellowish cast. They also tend to have distorted loops and tails, grown under the influence of disruptive gravitational tides. The mostly bluish galaxy, NGC 7320, is in the foreground about 40 million light-years distant, and isn't part of the interacting group. Still, captured in this field above and to the left of Stephan's Quintet is another galaxy, NGC 7320C, that is also 300 million light-years distant. Of course, including it would bring the four interacting galaxies back up to quintet status. Stephan's Quintet lies within the boundaries of the high flying constellation Pegasus. At the estimated distance of the quintet's interacting galaxies, this field of view spans over 500,000 light-years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 December 10 - Seyferts Sextet
Explanation: What will survive this battle of the galaxies? Known as Seyfert's Sextet, this intriguing group of galaxies lies in the head portion of the split constellation of the Snake (Serpens). The sextet actually contains only four interacting galaxies, though. Near the center of this Hubble Space Telescope picture, the small face-on spiral galaxy lies in the distant background and appears only by chance aligned with the main group. Also, the prominent condensation on the upper left is likely not a separate galaxy at all, but a tidal tail of stars flung out by the galaxies' gravitational interactions. About 190 million light-years away, the interacting galaxies are tightly packed into a region around 100,000 light-years across, comparable to the size of our own Milky Way galaxy, making this one of the densest known galaxy groups. Bound by gravity, the close-knit group may coalesce into a single large galaxy over the next few billion years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 October 16 - Three Galaxies in Draco
Explanation: This intriguing trio of galaxies is sometimes called the Draco Group, located in the northern constellation of (you guessed it) Draco. From left to right are edge-on spiral NGC 5981, elliptical galaxy NGC 5982, and face-on spiral NGC 5985 -- all within this single telescopic field of view spanning a little more than half the width of the full moon. While the group is far too small to be a galaxy cluster and has not been catalogued as a compact group, these galaxies all do lie roughly 100 million light-years from planet Earth. On close examination with spectrographs, the bright core of the striking face-on spiral NGC 5985 shows prominent emission in specific wavelengths of light, prompting astronomers to classify it as a Seyfert, a type of active galaxy. Not as well known as other tight groupings of galaxies, the contrast in visual appearance makes this triplet an attractive subject for astrophotographers. This impressively deep exposure hints at faint, sharp-edged shells surrounding elliptical NGC 5982, evidence of past galactic mergers. It also reveals many even more distant background galaxies.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 September 17 - Galaxy Cluster Abell 1689 Deflects Light
Explanation: It is one of the most massive objects in the visible universe. In this view from the Hubble Space Telescope's Advanced Camera for Surveys, Abell 1689 is seen to warp space as predicted by Einstein's theory of gravity -- deflecting light from individual galaxies which lie behind the cluster to produce multiple, curved images. The power of this enormous gravitational lens depends on its mass, but the visible matter, in the form of the cluster's yellowish galaxies, only accounts for about one percent of the mass needed to make the observed bluish arcing images of background galaxies. In fact, most of the gravitational mass required to warp space enough to explain this cosmic scale lensing is in the form of still mysterious dark matter. As the dominant source of Abell 1689's gravity, the dark matter's unseen presence is mapped out by the lensed arcs and distorted background galaxy images. Surprisingly, close inspection of the above image has revealed the presence of over 100,000 globular star clusters in the galaxy cluster.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 March 8 - Looking Through Abell 68
Explanation: Want to use a cluster of galaxies as a telescope? It's easier than you might think as distant galaxy clusters naturally act as strong gravitional lenses. In accordance with Einstein's theory of general relativity, the cluster gravitational mass, dominated by dark matter, bends light and creates magnified, distorted images of even more distant background galaxies. This sharp infrared Hubble image illustrates the case for galaxy cluster Abell 68 as a gravitational telescope, explored by amateur astronomer Nick Rose during the ESA-Hubble Hidden Treasures image processing competition. Putting your cursor over the picture will label highlights in the scene. Labels 1 and 2 show two lensed images of the same background galaxy. The distorted galaxy image labeled 2 resembles a vintage space invader! Label 3 marks a cluster member galaxy, not gravitationally lensed, stripped of its own gas as it plows through the denser intergalactic medium. Label 4 includes many background galaxies imaged as elongated streaks and arcs. Abell 68 itself is some 2.1 billion light-years distant toward the constellation Vulpecula. The central region of the cluster covered in the Hubble view spans over 1.2 million light-years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 January 11 - The Fornax Cluster of Galaxies
Explanation: How do clusters of galaxies form and evolve? To help find out, astronomers continue to study the second closest cluster of galaxies to Earth: the Fornax cluster, named for the southern constellation toward which most of its galaxies can be found. Although almost 20 times more distant than our neighboring Andromeda galaxy, Fornax is only about 10 percent further that the better known and more populated Virgo cluster of galaxies. Fornax has a well-defined central region that contains many galaxies, but is still evolving. It has other galaxy groupings that appear distinct and have yet to merge. Seen here, almost every yellowish splotch on the image is an elliptical galaxy in the Fornax cluster. The picturesque barred spiral galaxy NGC 1365 visible on the lower right is also a prominent Fornax cluster member.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 May 12 - The Hydra Cluster of Galaxies
Explanation: Two stars within our own Milky Way galaxy anchor the foreground of this cosmic snapshot. Beyond them lie the galaxies of the Hydra Cluster. In fact, while the spiky foreground stars are hundreds of light-years distant, the Hydra Cluster galaxies are over 100 million light-years away. Three large galaxies near the cluster center, two yellow ellipticals (NGC 3311, NGC 3309) and one prominent blue spiral (NGC 3312), are the dominant galaxies, each about 150,000 light-years in diameter. An intriguing overlapping galaxy pair cataloged as NGC 3314 is just above and left of NGC 3312. Also known as Abell 1060, the Hydra galaxy cluster is one of three large galaxy clusters within 200 million light-years of the Milky Way. In the nearby universe, galaxies are gravitationally bound into clusters which themselves are loosely bound into superclusters that in turn are seen to align over even larger scales. At a distance of 100 million light-years this picture would be about 1.3 million light-years across.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 February 25 - Stephan's Quintet
Explanation: The first identified compact galaxy group, Stephan's Quintet is featured in this eye-catching image constructed with data drawn from the extensive Hubble Legacy Archive. About 300 million light-years away, only four of these five galaxies are actually locked in a cosmic dance of repeated close encounters. The odd man out is easy to spot, though. The interacting galaxies, NGC 7319, 7318A, 7318B, and 7317 have an overall yellowish cast. They also tend to have distorted loops and tails, grown under the influence of disruptive gravitational tides. But the predominantly bluish galaxy, NGC 7320, is closer, just 40 million light-years distant, and isn't part of the interacting group. Stephan's Quintet lies within the boundaries of the high flying constellation Pegasus. At the estimated distance of the quartet of interacting galaxies, this field of view spans about 500,000 light-years. However, moving just beyond this field, above and to the left, astronomers can identify another galaxy, NGC 7320C, that is also 300 million light-years distant. Of course, including it would bring the interacting quartet back up to quintet status.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2011 October 17 - MACS 1206: A Galaxy Cluster Gravitational Lens
Explanation: It is difficult to hide a galaxy behind a cluster of galaxies. The closer cluster's gravity will act like a huge lens, pulling images of the distant galaxy around the sides and greatly distorting them. This is just the case observed in the above recently released image from the CLASH survey with the Hubble Space Telescope. The cluster MACS J1206.2-0847 is composed of many galaxies and is lensing the image of a yellow-red background galaxy into the huge arc on the right. Careful inspection of the image will reveal at least several other lensed background galaxies -- many appearing as elongated wisps. The foreground cluster can only create such smooth arcs if most of its mass is smoothly distributed dark matter -- and therefore not concentrated in the cluster galaxies visible. Analyzing the positions of these gravitational arcs also gives astronomers a method to estimate the dark matter distribution in galaxy clusters, and infer from that when these huge conglomerations of galaxies began to form.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2011 July 12 - The Perseus Cluster of Galaxies
Explanation: Here is one of the largest objects that anyone will ever see on the sky. Each of these fuzzy blobs is a galaxy, together making up the Perseus Cluster, one of the closest clusters of galaxies. The cluster is seen through a foreground of faint stars in our own Milky Way Galaxy. Near the cluster center, roughly 250 million light-years away, is the cluster's dominant galaxy NGC 1275, seen above as a large galaxy on the image left. A prodigious source of x-rays and radio emission, NGC 1275 accretes matter as gas and galaxies fall into it. The Perseus Cluster of Galaxies, also cataloged as Abell 426, is part of the Pisces-Perseus supercluster spanning over 15 degrees and containing over 1,000 galaxies. At the distance of NGC 1275, this view covers about 15 million light-years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2011 June 29 - Abell 2744: Pandora's Cluster of Galaxies
Explanation: Why is this cluster of galaxies so jumbled? Far from a smooth distribution, Abell 2744 not only has knots of galaxies, but the X-ray emitting hot gas (colored red) in the cluster appears distributed differently than the dark matter. The dark matter, taking up over 75 percent of the cluster mass and colored blue in the above image, was inferred by that needed to create the distortion of background galaxies by gravitational lensing. The jumble appears to result from the slow motion collision of at least four smaller galaxy clusters over the past few billion years. The above picture combines optical images from the Hubble Space Telescope and the Very Large Telescope with X-ray images from the Chandra X-Ray Observatory. Abell 2744, dubbed Pandora's cluster, spans over two million light years and can best be seen with a really large telescope toward the constellation of the Sculptor.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2011 April 22 - Virgo Cluster Galaxies
Explanation: Well over a thousand galaxies are known members of the Virgo Cluster, the closest large cluster of galaxies to our own local group. In fact, the galaxy cluster is difficult to appreciate all at once because it covers such a large area on the sky. Spanning about 5x3 degrees, this careful mosaic of telescopic images clearly records the central region of the Virgo Cluster through faint foreground dust clouds lingering above the plane of our own Milky Way galaxy. The cluster's dominant giant elliptical galaxy M87, is just below center in the frame. Above M87 is the famous interacting galaxy pair NGC 4438, also known as The Eyes. A closer examination of the image will reveal many Virgo cluster member galaxies as small fuzzy patches. Sliding your cursor over the image will label the larger galaxies using NGC catalog designations. Galaxies are also shown with Messier catalog numbers, including M84, M86, and prominent colorful spirals M88, M90, and M91. On average, Virgo Cluster galaxies are measured to be about 48 million light-years away. The Virgo Cluster distance has been used to give an important determination of the Hubble Constant and the scale of the Universe. (Editor's Note: Labels courtesy of Astrometry.net.)

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 November 20 - Stephan s Quintet
Explanation: The first identified compact galaxy group, Stephan's Quintet is featured in this eye-catching image constructed with data drawn from the extensive Hubble Legacy Archive. About 300 million light-years away, only four galaxies of the group are actually locked in a cosmic dance of repeated close encounters. The odd man out is easy to spot, though. The four interacting galaxies (NGC 7319, 7318A, 7318B, and 7317) have an overall yellowish cast and tend to have distorted loops and tails, grown under the influence of disruptive gravitational tides. But the larger bluish galaxy, NGC 7320, is much closer than the others. Just 40 million light-years distant, it isn't part of the interacting group. In fact, individual stars in the foreground galaxy can be seen in the sharp Hubble view, hinting that it is much closer than the others. Stephan's Quintet lies within the boundaries of the high flying constellation Pegasus.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 September 8 - NGC 4911: Spiral Diving into a Dense Cluster
Explanation: Why are there faint rings around this spiral galaxy? Possibly because the galaxy, NGC 4911, is being pulled at by its neighbors as it falls into the enormous Coma Cluster of Galaxies. If NGC 4911 ends up like most of the galaxies in the central Coma cluster, it will become a yellowish elliptical galaxy, losing not only its outer layers, but dust, gas, and its cadre of surrounding satellite galaxies as well. Currently, however, this process is just beginning. Visible in the above deep image from the Hubble Space Telescope are NGC 4911's bright nucleus, distorted spiral arms laced with dark dust, clusters of recently formed stars, unusual faint outer rings, dwarf companion galaxies, and even faint globular clusters of stars. Far in the distance many unassociated galaxies from the early universe are visible, some even through NGC 4911 itself. The Coma Cluster contains over 1,000 galaxies making it among the most massive objects known. NGC 4911 can be found to the lower left of the great cluster's center.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 August 24 - Galaxy Cluster Abell 1689 Magnifies the Dark Universe
Explanation: What's the matter with this cluster of galaxies? To find out what forms matter takes in the Abell 1689 cluster requires not only deep images from telescopes like the Hubble Space Telescope, but detailed computer modeling as well. To start, almost every fuzzy yellow patch in the above image is an entire galaxy. A close inspection, however, shows that many background galaxies are strangely magnified and distorted into long curving arcs by the gravitational lens deflections of the cluster. Computer analyses of the placement and smoothness of these arcs indicate that in addition to the matter in the galaxies you can see, the cluster must also contain a significant amount of dark matter such as the model digitally superposed in purple. Now Abell 1689 remains enigmatic because the arcs are so numerous and diverse that no single dark matter model has emerged that can explain them all and still remain consistent with dark matter models needed to constrain their motion. Still, the detailed information available from clusters of galaxies like Abell 1689 gives hope that one day full solutions will be found that will not only fully reveal the dark matter in clusters, but also reveal the amounts of dark energy in the universe needed to lie along the line of sight to the distant arcs.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 June 20 - Abell 2218: A Galaxy Cluster Lens
Explanation: What are those strange filaments? Background galaxies. Gravity can bend light, allowing huge clusters of galaxies to act as telescopes, and distorting images of background galaxies into elongated strands. Almost all of the bright objects in this Hubble Space Telescope image are galaxies in the cluster known as Abell 2218. The cluster is so massive and so compact that its gravity bends and focuses the light from galaxies that lie behind it. As a result, multiple images of these background galaxies are distorted into long faint arcs -- a simple lensing effect analogous to viewing distant street lamps through a glass of wine. The cluster of galaxies Abell 2218 is itself about three billion light-years away in the northern constellation of the Dragon (Draco). The power of this massive cluster telescope has allowed astronomers to detect a galaxy at the distant redshift of 5.58.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 May 29 - Black Holes in Merging Galaxies
Explanation: Violent galaxy mergers can feed supermassive black holes. Theoretically, the result is intense emission from regions near the supermassive black holes, creating the some of the most luminous objects in the universe. Astronomers dub these Active Galactic Nuclei, or just AGN. But for decades only about 1 percent of AGN seemed to be associated with galaxy mergers. New results from a premier sky survey by NASA's Swift satellite at hard (energetic) X-ray energies now solidly show a strong association of AGN with merging galaxies, though. The hard X-rays more readily penetrate dust and gas clouds in merging galaxies and reveal the presence of emission from the active black holes. In fact, these panels show the location (circled) of Swift X-ray detected supermassive black holes in a variety of merging galaxy systems. The optical images are from the Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona. At top center is NGC 7319 and the compact galaxy group known as Stephan's Quintet.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 May 2 - The Coma Cluster of Galaxies
Explanation: Almost every object in the above photograph is a galaxy. The Coma Cluster of Galaxies pictured above is one of the densest clusters known - it contains thousands of galaxies. Each of these galaxies houses billions of stars - just as our own Milky Way Galaxy does. Although nearby when compared to most other clusters, light from the Coma Cluster still takes hundreds of millions of years to reach us. In fact, the Coma Cluster is so big it takes light millions of years just to go from one side to the other! Most galaxies in Coma and other clusters are ellipticals, while most galaxies outside of clusters are spirals. The nature of Coma's X-ray emission is still being investigated.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 April 29 - Virgo Cluster Galaxy NGC 4731
Explanation: Barred spiral galaxy NGC 4731 lies some 65 million light-years away. The lovely island universe resides in the large Virgo cluster of galaxies. Colors in this well-composed, cosmic portrait, highlight plentiful, young, bluish star clusters along the galaxy's sweeping spiral arms. Its broad arms are distorted by gravitational interaction with a fellow Virgo cluster member, giant elliptical galaxy NGC 4697. NGC 4697 is beyond this frame above and to the left, but a smaller irregular galaxy NGC 4731A can be seen near the bottom in impressive detail with its own young blue star clusters. Of course, the individual, colorful, spiky stars in the scene are much closer, within our own Milky Way galaxy. NGC 4731 itself is well over 100,000 light-years across.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2009 October 28 - JKCS041: The Farthest Galaxy Cluster Yet Measured
Explanation: What if we could see back to the beginning of the universe? We can -- since it takes the age of the universe for light to cross the universe. Peering at distant objects, therefore, tells us about how the universe used to be, even near its beginning. Since telescopes are therefore also time portals, observations of distant clusters can be used, for example, to investigate when and how these huge galaxy conglomerations formed. Previously, the redshift record for a galaxy cluster was about 1.5, corresponding to about nine billion light years distant. Recently, using data including X-ray images from the orbiting Chandra X-Ray Observatory, a new farthest cluster was identified. Shown above, JKCS041 is seen at redshift 1.9, corresponding to nearly one billion light years farther than the previous record holder. The hot X-ray gas that confirmed the apparent galaxy grouping as a true cluster of galaxies is shown above in diffuse blue, superposed on an optical image showing many foreground stars. JKCS041 is seen today as it appeared at only one quarter of the present age of the universe.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2009 September 21 - Abell 370: Galaxy Cluster Gravitational Lens
Explanation: What is that strange arc? While imaging the cluster of galaxies Abell 370, astronomers had noted an unusual arc to the right of many cluster galaxies. Although curious, one initial response was to avoid commenting on the arc because nothing like it had ever been noted before. In the mid-1980s, however, better images allowed astronomers to identify the arc as a prototype of a new kind of astrophysical phenomenon -- the gravitational lens effect of entire cluster of galaxies on background galaxies. Today, we know that this arc actually consists of two distorted images of a fairly normal galaxy that happened to lie far behind the huge cluster. Abell 370's gravity caused the background galaxies' light -- and others -- to spread out and come to the observer along multiple paths, not unlike a distant light appears through the stem of a wine glass. In mid-July, astronomers used the just-upgraded Hubble Space Telescope to image Abell 370 and its gravitational lens images in unprecedented detail. Almost all of the yellow images pictured above are galaxies in the Abell 370 cluster. An astute eye can pick up many strange arcs and distorted arclets, however, that are actually images of more distant galaxies. Studying Abell 370 and its images gives astronomers a unique window into the distribution of normal and dark matter in galaxy clusters and the universe.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2009 September 11 - Stephan's Quintet
Explanation: The first identified compact galaxy group, Stephan's Quintet is featured in this stunning image from the newly upgraded Hubble Space Telescope. About 300 million light-years away, only four galaxies of the group are actually locked in a cosmic dance of repeated close encounters. The odd man out is easy to spot, though. The four interacting galaxies (NGC 7319, 7318A, 7318B, and 7317) have an overall yellowish cast and tend to have distorted loops and tails, grown under the influence of disruptive gravitational tides. But the bluish galaxy at the upper left (NGC 7320) is much closer than the others. A mere 40 million light-years distant, it isn't part of the interacting group. In fact, individual stars in the foreground galaxy can be seen in the sharp Hubble image, hinting that it is much closer than the others. Stephan's Quintet lies within the boundaries of the high flying constellation Pegasus.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2009 August 23 - Giant Cluster Bends, Breaks Images
Explanation: What are those strange blue objects? Many of the brightest blue images are of a single, unusual, beaded, blue, ring-like galaxy which just happens to line-up behind a giant cluster of galaxies. Cluster galaxies here typically appear yellow and -- together with the cluster's dark matter -- act as a gravitational lens. A gravitational lens can create several images of background galaxies, analogous to the many points of light one would see while looking through a wine glass at a distant street light. The distinctive shape of this background galaxy -- which is probably just forming -- has allowed astronomers to deduce that it has separate images at 4, 10, 11, and 12 o'clock, from the center of the cluster. A blue smudge near the cluster center is likely another image of the same background galaxy. In all, a recent analysis postulated that at least 33 images of 11 separate background galaxies are discernable. This spectacular photo of galaxy cluster CL0024+1654 from the Hubble Space Telescope was taken in November 2004.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2009 August 6 - Galaxies in Pegasus
Explanation: This wide, sharp telescopic view reveals galaxies scattered beyond the stars at the northern boundary of the high-flying constellation Pegasus. Prominent at the upper right is NGC 7331. A mere 50 million light-years away, the large spiral is one of the brighter galaxies not included in Charles Messier's famous 18th century catalog. The disturbed looking group of galaxies at the lower left is well-known as Stephan's Quintet. About 300 million light-years distant, the quintet dramatically illustrates a multiple galaxy collision, its powerful, ongoing interactions posed for a brief cosmic snapshot. On the sky, the quintet and NGC 7331 are separated by about half a degree.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2009 July 16 - The Hercules Cluster of Galaxies
Explanation: These are galaxies of the Hercules Cluster, an archipelago of island universes a mere 500 million light-years away. Also known as Abell 2151, this cluster is loaded with gas and dust rich, star-forming spiral galaxies but has relatively few elliptical galaxies, which lack gas and dust and the associated newborn stars. The colors in this remarkably deep composite image clearly show the star forming galaxies with a blue tint and galaxies with older stellar populations with a yellowish cast. The sharp picture spans about 3/4 degree across the cluster center, corresponding to over 6 million light-years at the cluster's estimated distance. In the cosmic vista many galaxies seem to be colliding or merging while others seem distorted - clear evidence that cluster galaxies commonly interact. In fact, the Hercules Cluster itself may be seen as the result of ongoing mergers of smaller galaxy clusters and is thought to be similar to young galaxy clusters in the much more distant, early Universe.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2009 July 1 - Three Galaxies in Draco
Explanation: This intriguing trio of galaxies is sometimes called the Draco Group, located in the northern constellation of (you guessed it) Draco. From left to right are edge-on spiral NGC 5981, elliptical galaxy NGC 5982, and face-on spiral NGC 5985 -- all within this single telescopic field of view spanning a little more than half the width of the full moon. While the group is far too small to be a galaxy cluster and has not been cataloged compact group, these galaxies all do lie roughly 100 million light-years from planet Earth. On close examination with spectrographs, the bright core of the striking face-on spiral NGC 5985 shows prominent emission in specific wavelengths of light, prompting astronomers to classify it as a Seyfert, a type of active galaxy. Not as well known as other tight groupings of galaxies, the contrast in visual appearance makes this triplet an attractive subject for astrophotographers. This impressively deep exposure of the region also reveals faint and even more distant background galaxies.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2009 June 9 - Markarian's Chain of Galaxies
Explanation: Across the heart of the Virgo Cluster of Galaxies lies a striking string of galaxies known as Markarian's Chain. The chain, pictured above, is highlighted on the upper right with two large but featureless lenticular galaxies, M84 and M86. Prominent to their lower left is a pair of interacting galaxies known as The Eyes. The home Virgo Cluster is the nearest cluster of galaxies, contains over 2000 galaxies, and has a noticeable gravitational pull on the galaxies of the Local Group of Galaxies surrounding our Milky Way Galaxy. The center of the Virgo Cluster is located about 70 million light years away toward the constellation of Virgo. At least seven galaxies in the chain appear to move coherently, although others appear to be superposed by chance.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2009 May 8 - Galaxies of the Perseus Cluster
Explanation: This colorful telescopic skyscape is filled with galaxies that lie nearly 250 million light-years away, the galaxies of the Perseus cluster. Their extended and sometimes surprising shapes are seen beyond a veil of foreground stars in our own Milky Way. Ultimately consisting of over a thousand galaxies, the cluster is filled with yellowish elliptical and lenticular galaxies, like those scattered throughout this view of the cluster's central region. Notably, the large galaxy at the left is the massive and bizarre-looking NGC 1275. A prodigious source of high-energy emission, active galaxy NGC 1275 dominates the Perseus cluster, accreting matter as entire galaxies fall into it and feed the supermassive black hole at the galaxy's core. Of course, spiral galaxies also inhabit the Perseus cluster, including the small, face-on spiral NGC 1268, right of picture center. The bluish spot on the outskirts of NGC 1268 is supernova SN 2008fg. At the estimated distance of the Perseus galaxy cluster, this field spans about 1.5 million light-years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2008 August 23 - The Matter of the Bullet Cluster
Explanation: The matter in galaxy cluster 1E 0657-56, fondly known as the "bullet cluster", is shown in this composite image. A mere 3.4 billion light-years away, the bullet cluster's individual galaxies are seen in the optical image data, but their total mass adds up to far less than the mass of the cluster's two clouds of hot x-ray emitting gas shown in red. Representing even more mass than the optical galaxies and x-ray gas combined, the blue hues show the distribution of dark matter in the cluster. Otherwise invisible to telescopic views, the dark matter was mapped by observations of gravitational lensing of background galaxies. In a text book example of a shock front, the bullet-shaped cloud of gas at the right was distorted during the titanic collision between two galaxy clusters that created the larger bullet cluster itself. But the dark matter present has not interacted with the cluster gas except by gravity. The clear separation of dark matter and gas clouds is considered direct evidence that dark matter exists.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2008 July 8 - In the Heart of the Virgo Cluster
Explanation: The Virgo Cluster of Galaxies is the closest cluster of galaxies to our Milky Way Galaxy. The Virgo Cluster is so close that it spans more than 5 degrees on the sky - about 10 times the angle made by a full Moon. With its heart lying about 70 million light years distant, the Virgo Cluster is the nearest cluster of galaxies, contains over 2,000 galaxies, and has a noticeable gravitational pull on the galaxies of the Local Group of Galaxies surrounding our Milky Way Galaxy. The cluster contains not only galaxies filled with stars but also gas so hot it glows in X-rays. Motions of galaxies in and around clusters indicate that they contain more dark matter than any visible matter we can see. Pictured above, the heart of the Virgo Cluster includes bright Messier galaxies such as Markarian's Eyes on the upper left, M86 just to the upper right of center, M84 on the far right, as well as spiral galaxy NGC 4388 at the bottom right.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2008 June 16 - Inside the Coma Cluster of Galaxies
Explanation: Almost every object in the above photograph is a galaxy. The Coma Cluster of Galaxies pictured above is one of the densest clusters known - it contains thousands of galaxies. Each of these galaxies houses billions of stars - just as our own Milky Way Galaxy does. Although nearby when compared to most other clusters, light from the Coma Cluster still takes hundreds of millions of years to reach us. In fact, the Coma Cluster is so big it takes light millions of years just to go from one side to the other! The above mosaic of images of a small portion of Coma was taken in unprecedented detail by the Hubble Space Telescope to investigate how galaxies in rich clusters form and evolve. Most galaxies in Coma and other clusters are ellipticals, although some imaged here are clearly spirals. The spiral galaxy on the upper left of the above image can also be found as one of the bluer galaxies on the upper left of this wider field image. In the background thousands of unrelated galaxies are visible far across the universe.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2008 May 20 - The Perseus Cluster of Galaxies
Explanation: Here is one of the largest objects that anyone will ever see on the sky. Each of these fuzzy blobs is a galaxy, together making up the Perseus Cluster, one of the closest clusters of galaxies. The cluster is seen through a foreground of faint stars in our own Milky Way Galaxy. Near the cluster center, roughly 250 million light-years away, is the cluster's dominant galaxy NGC 1275, seen above as the large galaxy on the image left. A prodigious source of x-rays and radio emission, NGC 1275 accretes matter as gas and galaxies fall into it. The Perseus Cluster of Galaxies is part of the Pisces-Perseus supercluster spanning over 15 degrees and containing over 1,000 galaxies. At the distance of NGC 1275, this view covers about 7.5 million light-years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2008 April 25 - M86 in the Virgo Cluster
Explanation: Bright lenticular galaxy M86 is near center of this cosmic view, at the heart of the Virgo Galaxy Cluster. Other bright galaxies in the neighborhood include M84 at the upper right, edge-on spiral NGC4388 near the right edge, a striking pair of interacting galaxies, Markarian's Eyes, in the lower left corner, and edge-on spiral NGC 4402 at about 11 o'clock. With well over a thousand members, the Virgo Cluster is the closest large cluster of galaxies. On average the cluster galaxies are measured to be about 50 million light-years away. The entire Virgo Cluster is difficult to appreciate because it covers such a large area, spanning over 10 degrees on the sky. This cluster close-up covers a region just under 1 degree wide or about 1.5 times the size of the full moon.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2008 February 10 - Abell 2218: A Galaxy Cluster Lens
Explanation: Gravity can bend light, allowing huge clusters of galaxies to act as telescopes. Almost all of the bright objects in this Hubble Space Telescope image are galaxies in the cluster known as Abell 2218. The cluster is so massive and so compact that its gravity bends and focuses the light from galaxies that lie behind it. As a result, multiple images of these background galaxies are distorted into long faint arcs -- a simple lensing effect analogous to viewing distant street lamps through a glass of wine. The cluster of galaxies Abell 2218 is itself about three billion light-years away in the northern constellation of the Dragon (Draco). The power of this massive cluster telescope has allowed astronomers to detect a galaxy at redshift 5.58, the most distant galaxy yet measured. This young, still-maturing galaxy is faintly visible to the lower right of the cluster core.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2007 November 24 - Galaxies in Pegasus
Explanation: This wide, sharp telescopic view reveals galaxies scattered beyond the stars near the northern boundary of the high-flying constellation Pegasus. Prominent at the upper right is NGC 7331. A mere 50 million light-years away, the large spiral is one of the brighter galaxies not included in Charles Messier's famous 18th century catalog. The disturbed looking group of galaxies at the lower left is well-known as Stephan's Quintet. About 300 million light-years distant, the quintet dramatically illustrates a multiple galaxy collision, its powerful, ongoing interactions posed for a brief cosmic snapshot. On the sky, the quintet and NGC 7331 are separated by about half a degree.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2007 November 15 - M13: The Great Globular Cluster in Hercules
Explanation: M13 is modestly recognized as the Great Globular Cluster in Hercules. A system of stars numbering in the hundreds of thousands, it is one of the brightest globular star clusters in the northern sky. At a distance of 25,000 light-years, the cluster stars crowd into a region 150 light-years in diameter, but approaching the cluster core over 100 stars would be contained in a cube just 3 light-years on a side. For comparison, the closest star to the Sun is over 4 light-years away. This stunning view of the cluster combines recent telescopic images of the cluster's dense core with digitized photographic plates recorded between 1987 and 1991 using the Samuel Oschin Telescope, a wide-field survey instrument at Palomar Observatory. The resulting composite highlights both inner and outer reaches of the giant star cluster. Among the distant background galaxies also visible, NGC 6207 is above and to the left of the Great Globular Cluster M13.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2007 October 5 - Starburst Cluster in NGC 3603
Explanation: A mere 20,000 light-years from the Sun lies NGC 3603, a resident of the nearby Carina spiral arm of our Milky Way Galaxy. NGC 3603 is well known to astronomers as one of the Milky Way's largest star-forming regions. The central open star cluster contains thousands of stars more massive than our Sun, stars that likely formed only one or two million years ago in a single burst of star formation. In fact, nearby NGC 3603 is thought to contain a convenient example of the massive star clusters that populate much more distant starburst galaxies. Surrounding the cluster are natal clouds of glowing interstellar gas and obscuring dust, sculpted by energetic stellar radiation and winds. Recorded by the Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys, the image spans about 17 light-years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2007 August 20 - Cluster Crash Illuminates Dark Matter Conundrum
Explanation: Huge clusters of galaxies are surely colliding in Abell 520 but astrophysicists aren't sure why the dark matter is becoming separated from the normal matter. The dark matter in the above multi-wavelength image is shown in false blue, determined by carefully detailing how the cluster distorts light emitted by more distant galaxies. Very hot gas, a form of normal matter, is shown in false red, determined by the X-rays detected by the Earth-orbiting Chandra X-ray Observatory. Individual galaxies dominated by normal matter appear yellowish or white. Conventional wisdom holds that dark matter and normal matter are attracted the same gravitationally, and so should be distributed the same in Abell 520. Inspection of the above image, however, shows a surprising a lack of a concentration of visible galaxies along the dark matter. One hypothetical answer is that the discrepancy is caused by the large galaxies undergoing some sort of conventional gravitational slingshots. A more controversial hypothesis holds that the dark matter is colliding with itself in some non-gravitational way that has never been seen before. Further simulations and study of this cluster may resolve this scientific conundrum.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2007 July 19 - The Hercules Cluster of Galaxies
Explanation: These are galaxies of the Hercules Cluster, an archipelago of island universes a mere 500 million light-years away. Also known as Abell 2151, this cluster is loaded with gas and dust rich, star-forming spiral galaxies but has relatively few elliptical galaxies, which lack gas and dust and the associated newborn stars. The colors in this remarkably deep composite image clearly show the star forming galaxies with a blue tint and galaxies with older stellar populations with a yellowish cast. The sharp picture spans about 1/2 degree across the cluster center, corresponding to over 4 million light-years at the cluster's estimated distance. In the cosmic vista many galaxies seem to be colliding or merging while others seem distorted - clear evidence that cluster galaxies commonly interact. In fact, the Hercules Cluster itself may be seen as the result of ongoing mergers of smaller galaxy clusters and is thought to be similar to young galaxy clusters in the much more distant, early Universe.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2007 June 9 - Globular Star Cluster M3
Explanation: This immense ball of half a million stars older than the Sun lies over 30,000 light-years away. Cataloged as M3 (and NGC 5272), it is one of about 150 globular star clusters that roam the halo of our Milky Way Galaxy. Even in this impressively sharp image, individual stars are difficult to distinguished in the densely packed core, but colors are apparent for the bright stars on the cluster's outskirts. M3's many cool "red" giant stars take on a yellowish cast, while hotter giants and pulsating variable stars look light blue. A closer look at the deep telescopic view also reveals a host of background galaxies. Itself about 200 light-years across, the giant star cluster is a relatively bright, easy target for binoculars in the northern constellation Canes Venatici, The Hunting Dogs, and not far from Arcturus.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2007 May 31 - Dwarf Galaxies in the Coma Cluster
Explanation: In visible light images, over a thousand galaxies are seen to lie within a volume about 20 million light-years across in the rich Coma Galaxy Cluster. But infrared images of the Coma Cluster have now been used to add thousands more to the Coma's galaxy count in the form of previously undiscovered dwarf galaxies. This composite combines infrared Spitzer Space Telescope image data (red and green) with visible light Sloan Sky Survey data (blue) for the central part of the cluster. Over 1 degree wide, the field is dominated by two giant elliptical galaxies in blue. Still, many of the small green smudges (see magnified inset) are identified as dwarf galaxies, roughly comparable to the Small Magellanic Cloud. Dwarf galaxies are thought to form first, providing building blocks for larger galaxies. The well-studied, friendly, Coma Cluster is 320 million light-years away.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2007 May 16 - Dark Matter Ring Modeled around Galaxy Cluster CL0024 17
Explanation: How do we know that dark matter isn't just normal matter exhibiting strange gravity? A new observation of gravitationally magnified faint galaxies far in the distance behind a massive cluster of galaxies is shedding new dark on the subject. The above detailed image from the Hubble Space Telescope indicates that a huge ring of dark matter likely exists surrounding the center of CL0024+17 that has no normal matter counterpart. What is visible in the above image, first and foremost, are many spectacular galaxies that are part of CL0024+17 itself, typically appearing tan in color. Next, a close inspection of the cluster center shows several unusual and repeated galaxy shapes, typically more blue. These are multiple images of a few distant galaxies, showing that the cluster is a strong gravitational lens. It is the relatively weak distortions of the many distant faint blue galaxies all over the image, however, that indicates the existence of the dark matter ring. The computationally modeled dark matter ring spans about five million light years and been digitally superimposed to the image in diffuse blue. A hypothesis for the formation of the huge dark matter ring holds that it is a transient feature formed when galaxy cluster CL0024+17 collided with another cluster of galaxies about one billion years ago, leaving a ring similar to when a rock is thrown in a pond.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2007 March 5 - Illusion and Evolution in Galaxy Cluster Abell 2667
Explanation: What's happening to the galaxies of cluster Abell 2667? On the upper left, a galaxy appears to be breaking up into small pieces, while on the far right, another galaxy appears to be stretched like taffy. To start, most of the yellowish objects in the above image from the Hubble Space Telescope are galactic members of a massive cluster of galaxies known as Abell 2667. The distortion of the galaxy on the upper left is real. As the galaxy plows through the intercluster medium, gas is stripped out and condenses to form bright new knots of stars. This detailed image of ram pressure stripping helps astronomers understand why so many galaxies today have so little gas. The distortion of the galaxy on the far right, however, is an illusion. This nearly normal galaxy is actually far behind the massive galaxy cluster. Light from this galaxy is gravitationally lensed by Abell 2667, appearing much like a distant person would appear through a wine glass. Each distorted galaxy gives important clues about how galaxies and clusters of galaxies evolve.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2007 February 8 - Galaxies Away
Explanation: This stunning group of galaxies is far, far away - about 450 million light-years from planet Earth - cataloged as galaxy cluster Abell S0740. Dominated by the cluster's large central elliptical galaxy (ESO 325-G004), this sharp Hubble view takes in a remarkable assortment of galaxy shapes and sizes with only a few spiky foreground stars scattered through the field. The giant elliptical galaxy spans over 100,000 light years and contains about 100 billion stars, comparable in size to our own spiral Milky Way. The Hubble data reveal a wealth of detail in even these distant galaxies, including magnificent arms and dust lanes, star clusters, ring structures, and gravitational lensing arcs.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2006 October 11 - Markarian's Chain of Galaxies
Explanation: Across the heart of the Virgo Cluster of Galaxies lies a striking string of galaxies known as Markarian's Chain. The chain, pictured above, is highlighted on the lower right with two large but featureless lenticular galaxies, M84 and M86, and connects through several large spiral to the upper left, including M88. The home Virgo Cluster is the nearest cluster of galaxies, contains over 2,000 galaxies, and has a noticeable gravitational pull on the galaxies of the Local Group of Galaxies surrounding our Milky Way Galaxy. The center of the Virgo Cluster is located about 70 million light years away toward the constellation of Virgo. At least seven galaxies in the chain appear to move coherently, although others appear to be superposed by chance. The above image is just a small part of a mosaic dubbed the Big Picture taken by the Samuel Oschin Telescope at Palomar Observatory, in California, USA. A mural of the Big Picture will be displayed at the newly renovated Griffith Observatory near Los Angeles, California.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2006 August 24 - The Matter of the Bullet Cluster
Explanation: The matter in galaxy cluster 1E 0657-56, fondly known as the "bullet cluster", is shown in this composite image. A mere 3.4 billion light-years away, the bullet cluster's individual galaxies are seen in the optical image data, but their total mass adds up to far less than the mass of the cluster's two clouds of hot x-ray emitting gas shown in red. Representing even more mass than the optical galaxies and x-ray gas combined, the blue hues show the distribution of dark matter in the cluster. Otherwise invisible to telescopic views, the dark matter was mapped by observations of gravitational lensing of background galaxies. In a text book example of a shock front, the bullet-shaped cloud of gas at the right was distorted during the titanic collision between two galaxy clusters that created the larger bullet cluster itself. But the dark matter present has not interacted with the cluster gas except by gravity. The clear separation of dark matter and gas clouds is considered direct evidence that dark matter exists.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2006 May 24 - A Five Quasar Gravitational Lens
Explanation: What's happening near the center of this cluster of galaxies? At first glance, it appears that several strangely elongated galaxies and fully five bright quasars exist there. In reality, an entire cluster of galaxies is acting as a gigantic gravitational lens that distorts and multiply-images bright objects that occur far in the distance. The five bright white points near the cluster center are actually images of a single distant quasar. This Hubble Space Telescope image is so detailed that even the host galaxy surrounding the quasar is visible. Close inspection of the above image will reveal that the arced galaxies at 2 and 4 o'clock are actually gravitationally lensed images of the same galaxy. A third image of that galaxy can be found at about 10 o'clock from the cluster center. Serendipitously, numerous strange and distant galaxies dot the above image like colorful jewels. The cluster of galaxy that acts as the huge gravitational lens is cataloged as SDSS J1004+4112 and lies about 7 billion light years distant toward the constellation of Leo Minor.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2006 May 6 - Three Galaxies in Draco
Explanation: This intriguing trio of galaxies is sometimes called the NGC 5985/Draco Group and so (quite reasonably) is located in the northern constellation Draco. From left to right are face-on spiral NGC 5985, elliptical galaxy NGC 5982, and edge-on spiral NGC 5981 -- all within this single telescopic field of view spanning a little more than half the width of the full moon. While this grouping is far too small to be a galaxy cluster and has not been cataloged as a compact group, these galaxies all do lie roughly 100 million light-years from planet Earth. On close examination with spectrographs, the bright core of the striking face-on spiral NGC 5985 shows prominent emission in specific wavelengths of light, prompting astronomers to classify it as a Seyfert, a type of active galaxy. Not as well known as other tight groupings of galaxies, the contrast in visual appearance makes this triplet an attractive subject for astrophotographers. This impressively deep exposure of region also reveals faint and even more distant background galaxies.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2006 March 21 - The Coma Cluster of Galaxies
Explanation: Almost every object in the above photograph is a galaxy. The Coma Cluster of Galaxies pictured above is one of the densest clusters known - it contains thousands of galaxies. Each of these galaxies houses billions of stars - just as our own Milky Way Galaxy does. Although nearby when compared to most other clusters, light from the Coma Cluster still takes hundreds of millions of years to reach us. In fact, the Coma Cluster is so big it takes light millions of years just to go from one side to the other! Most galaxies in Coma and other clusters are ellipticals, while most galaxies outside of clusters are spirals. The nature of Coma's X-ray emission is still being investigated.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2005 December 30 - The Perseus Cluster of Galaxies
Explanation: Here is one of the largest objects that anyone will ever see on the sky. Each of these fuzzy blobs is a galaxy, together making up the Perseus Cluster, one of the closest clusters of galaxies. The cluster is seen through a foreground of faint stars in our own Milky Way Galaxy. Near the cluster center, roughly 250 million light-years away, is the cluster's dominant galaxy NGC 1275, seen here just left of picture center. A prodigious source of x-rays and radio emission, NGC 1275 accretes matter as gas and galaxies fall into it. The Perseus Cluster of Galaxies is part of the Pisces-Perseus supercluster spanning over 15 degrees and containing over 1,000 galaxies. At the distance of NGC 1275, this view covers about 1.5 million light-years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2005 December 8 - X-Rays from the Perseus Cluster Core
Explanation: The Perseus Cluster of thousands of galaxies, 250 million light-years distant, is one of the most massive objects in the Universe and the brightest galaxy cluster in the x-ray sky. At its core lies the giant cannibal galaxy Perseus A (NGC 1275), accreting matter as gas and galaxies fall into it. This deep Chandra Observatory x-ray image spans about 300,000 light-years across the galaxy cluster core. It shows remarkable details of x-ray emission from the monster galaxy and surrounding hot (30-70 million degrees C) cluster gas. The bright central source is the supermassive black hole at the core of Perseus A itself. Low density regions are seen as dark bubbles or voids, believed to be generated by cyclic outbursts of activity from the central black hole. The activity creates pressure waves - sound waves on a cosmic scale- that ripple through the x-ray hot gas. Dramatically, the blue-green wisps just above centre in the false-color view are likely x-ray shadows of the remains of a small galaxy falling into the burgeoning Perseus A.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2005 November 22 - A Galactic Collision in Cluster Abell 1185
Explanation: What is a guitar doing in a cluster of galaxies? Colliding. Clusters of galaxies are sometimes packed so tight that the galaxies that compose them collide. A prominent example occurs on the left of the above image of the rich cluster of galaxies Abell 1185. There at least two galaxies, cataloged as Arp 105 and dubbed The Guitar for their familiar appearance, are pulling each other apart gravitationally. Most of Abell 1185's hundreds of galaxies are elliptical galaxies, although spiral, lenticular, and irregular galaxies are all clearly evident. Many of the spots on the above image are fully galaxies themselves containing billions of stars, but some spots are foreground stars in our own Milky Way Galaxy. Recent observations of Abell 1185 have found unusual globular clusters of stars that appear to belong only to the galaxy cluster and not to any individual galaxy. Abell 1185 spans about one million light years and lies 400 million light years distant.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2005 September 26 - Streams of Stars in the Virgo Cluster of Galaxies
Explanation: How do huge clusters of galaxies evolve? To help find out, astronomers pointed the wide-angle Burrell-Schmidt telescope on Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona, USA at the nearby Virgo Cluster of Galaxies. After hundreds of 15-minute exposures taken over two months in early 2004, the result is a dramatically deep and wide angle image of Virgo, the closest cluster of galaxies to our Milky Way Galaxy. Bright foreground stars have been digitally removed from the image but are still represented by numerous unusual dark spots. Inspection of the above image shows unusually large halos for the brightest galaxies as well as unusual faint streams of stars connecting Virgo galaxies that previously appeared unrelated. The above image allows a better reconstruction of the past few billion years of the gigantic Virgo cluster and illuminates the dynamics of clusters of galaxies in general.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2005 May 12 - Stars, Galaxies, and Comet Tempel 1
Explanation: Faint comet Tempel 1 sports a fuzzy blue-tinted tail, just right of center in this lovely field of stars. Recorded on May 3rd slowly sweeping through the constellation Virgo, periodic comet Tempel 1 orbits the Sun once every 5.5 years. Also caught in the skyview are two galaxies at the upper left - NGC 4762 and NGC 4754 - both members of the large Virgo Cluster of galaxies. Classified as a lenticular galaxy, NGC 4762 presents an edge-on disk as a narrow gash of light while NGC 4754 is a football-shaped elliptical galaxy. Similar in apparent size, the galaxies and comet make for an intriguing visual comparison, but Tempel 1 is only about 3 light-minutes from planet Earth. The two Virgo cluster galaxies are 50 million light-years away. NASA's Deep Impact spacecraft is scheduled to encounter Tempel 1 on July 4th, launching a probe to impact the comet's nucleus.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2005 April 27 - The Hercules Cluster of Galaxies
Explanation: These are galaxies of the Hercules Cluster, an archipelago of "island universes" a mere 650 million light-years distant. This cluster is loaded with gas and dust rich, star forming, spiral galaxies but has relatively few elliptical galaxies, which lack gas and dust and the associated newborn stars. Colors in the composite image show the star forming galaxies with a blue tint and ellipticals with a slightly yellowish cast. In this cosmic vista many galaxies seem to be colliding or merging while others seem distorted - clear evidence that cluster galaxies commonly interact. Over time, the galaxy interactions are likely to affect the the content of the cluster itself. Researchers believe that the Hercules Cluster is significantly similar to young galaxy clusters in the distant, early Universe and that exploring galaxy types and their interactions in nearby Hercules will help unravel the threads of galaxy andcluster evolution.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2005 March 19 - NGC 2266: Old Cluster in the New General Catalog
Explanation: The New General Catalog of star clusters and nebulae really isn't so new. In fact, it was published in 1888 - an attempt by J. L. E. Dreyer to consolidate the work of astronomers William, Caroline, and John Herschel along with others into a useful single, complete catalog of astronomical discoveries and measurements. Dreyer's work was successful and is still important today as this famous catalog continues to lend its "NGC" to bright clusters, galaxies, and nebulae. Take for example this star cluster known as NGC 2266 (item number 2,266 in the NGC compilation). It lies about 10,000 light-years distant in the constellation Gemini and represents an open or galactic cluster. With an age of about 1 billion years, NGC 2266 is old for a galactic cluster. Its evolved red giant stars are readily apparent in this gorgeous three-color image.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2005 March 16 - Markarian's Chain of Galaxies
Explanation: Across the heart of the Virgo Cluster of Galaxies lies a striking string of galaxies known as Markarian's Chain. The chain, pictured above, is highlighted on the upper right with two large but featureless lenticular galaxies, M84 and M86, and connects to the large spiral on the lower left, M88. Prominent on the lower right but not part of Markarian's Chain is the giant elliptical galaxy M87. The home Virgo Cluster is the nearest cluster of galaxies, contains over 2000 galaxies, and has a noticeable gravitational pull on the galaxies of the Local Group of Galaxies surrounding our Milky Way Galaxy. The center of the Virgo Cluster is located about 70 million light years away toward the constellation of Virgo. At least seven galaxies in the chain appear to move coherently, although others appear to be superposed by chance.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2005 March 4 - NGC 1427A: Galaxy in Motion
Explanation: In this tantalizing image, young blue star clusters and pink star-forming regions abound in NGC 1427A, a galaxy in motion. The small irregular galaxy's swept back outline points toward the top of this picture from the Hubble Space Telescope - and that is indeed the direction NGC 1427A is moving as it travels toward the center of the Fornax cluster of galaxies, some 62 million light-years away. Over 20,000 light-years long and similar to the nearby Large Magellanic Cloud, NGC 1427A is speeding through the Fornax cluster's intergalactic gas at around 600 kilometers per second. The resulting pressure is giving the galaxy its arrowhead outline and triggering the beautiful but violent episodes of star formation. Still, it is understood that interactions with cluster gas and the other cluster galaxies during its headlong flight will ultimately disrupt galaxy NGC 1427A. Many unrelated background galaxies are visible in the sharp Hubble image, including a striking face-on spiral galaxy at the upper left.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2005 February 13 - In the Center of the Virgo Cluster
Explanation: The Virgo Cluster of Galaxies is the closest cluster of galaxies to our Milky Way Galaxy. The Virgo Cluster is so close that it spans more than 5 degrees on the sky - about 10 times the angle made by a full Moon. It contains over 100 galaxies of many types - including spiral, elliptical, and irregular galaxies. The Virgo Cluster is so massive that it is noticeably pulling our Galaxy toward it. The cluster contains not only galaxies filled with stars but also gas so hot it glows in X-rays. Motions of galaxies in and around clusters indicate that they contain more dark matter than any visible matter we can see. Pictured above, the center of the Virgo cluster might appear to some as a human face, and includes bright Messier galaxies M86 at the top, M84 on the far right, NGC 4388 at the bottom, and NGC 4387 in the middle.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 October 25 - The Perseus Cluster of Galaxies
Explanation: Here is one of the largest objects that anyone will ever see on the sky. Each of the fuzzy blobs in the above picture is a galaxy, together making up the Perseus Cluster, one of the closest clusters of galaxies. The cluster is seen through the foreground of faint stars in our own Milky Way Galaxy. It takes light roughly 300 million years to get here from this region of the Universe, so we see this cluster as it existed before the age of the dinosaurs. Also known as Abell 426, the center of the Perseus Cluster is a prodigious source of X-ray radiation, and so helps astronomers explore how clusters formed and how gas and dark matter interact. The Perseus Cluster of Galaxies is part of the Pisces-Perseus supercluster of galaxies, which spans over 15 degrees and contains over 1000 galaxies.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 September 24 - Fornax Cluster in Motion
Explanation: Reminiscent of popular images of the lovely Pleiades star cluster that lies within our own Milky Way Galaxy, this false-color x-ray view actually explores the center of a much more extended cosmic family -- the Fornax cluster of galaxies some 65 million light-years away. Spanning nearly 900,000 light-years, the Chandra Observatory composite image reveals high-energy emission from several giant galaxies near the Fornax cluster center and an immense, diffuse cloud of x-ray emitting hot gas. On the whole, the hot cluster gas seems to be trailing toward the upper left in this view. As a result, astronomers surmise that the Fornax cluster core is moving toward the lower right, encountering an intergalactic headwind as it sweeps through a larger, less dense cloud of material. In fact, along with another visible galaxy grouping at the outskirts of the cluster, the Fornax cluster core galaxies seem to be moving toward a common point, attracted by the dominating gravity of unseen structures of dark matter in the region.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 September 6 - C153 Takes the Plunge
Explanation: A comet-like tail of glowing gas, 200,000 light-years long, streams from galaxy C153 as it plunges through galaxy cluster Abell 2125 at nearly 8 million kilometers per hour. Itself a member of the giant cluster of galaxies, C153 may once have been a spiral galaxy like the Milky Way. But this remarkable series of images, false-color composites of x-ray and optical data, zooms in on the galaxy's fate. A headlong passage through the hot intracluster gas in the central regions of Abell 2125 is seen to be stripping C153 of its own star forming material and distorting its shape. As other galaxies in the cluster suffer a similar fate, the hot gas collecting in the cluster's core should become enriched in heavy elements. The violent spectacle was taking place about 3 billion light-years from Earth and is thought to illustrate a common process in the cosmic evolution of large clusters of galaxies.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 August 7 - Giant Cluster Bends, Breaks Images
Explanation: What are those strange blue objects? Many are images of a single, unusual, beaded, blue, ring-like galaxy which just happens to line-up behind a giant cluster of galaxies. Cluster galaxies here appear yellow and -- together with the cluster's dark matter -- act as a gravitational lens. A gravitational lens can create several images of background galaxies, analogous to the many points of light one would see while looking through a wine glass at a distant street light. The distinctive shape of this background galaxy -- which is probably just forming -- has allowed astronomers to deduce that it has separate images at 4, 8, 9 and 10 o'clock, from the center of the cluster. Possibly even the blue smudge just left of center is yet another image! This spectacular photo from the Hubble Space Telescope was taken in October 1994.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 June 27 - Galaxy Cluster Abell 1689 Warps Space
Explanation: Two billion light-years away, galaxy cluster Abell 1689 is one of the most massive objects in the Universe. In this view from the Hubble Space Telescope's Advanced Camera for Surveys, Abell 1689 is seen to warp space as predicted by Einstein's theory of gravity -- bending light from individual galaxies which lie behind the cluster to produce multiple, curved images. The power of this enormous gravitational lens depends on its mass, but the visible matter, in the form of the cluster's yellowish galaxies, only accounts for about one percent of the mass needed to make the observed bluish arcing images of background galaxies. In fact, most of the gravitational mass required to warp space enough to explain this cosmic scale lensing is in the form of still mysterious dark matter. As the dominant source of the cluster's gravity, the dark matter's unseen presence is mapped out by the lensed arcs and distorted background galaxy images.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 February 26 - Galaxy Cluster in the Early Universe
Explanation: Long before medieval alchemists dreamed of transmuting base metals to gold, stellar furnaces in this massive cluster of galaxies - cataloged as RDCS 1252.9-2927 - had transformed light elements into heavy ones. In the false-color composite image individual cluster galaxies can be seen at optical and near-infrared wavelengths, shown in red, yellow, and green colors. X-ray data (in purple) reveal the hot intracluster gas, enriched in heavy elements. Attracting the attention of astronomers using the orbiting Chandra and XMM-Newton x-ray telescopes, as well as the Hubble Space Telescope and ground based VLT, the galaxy cluster lies nearly 9 billion light-years away ... and so existed at a time when the Universe was less than 5 billion years old. A measured mass of more than 200 trillion Suns makes this galaxy cluster the most massive object ever found when the Universe was so young. The cluster elemental abundances are consistent with the idea that most heavy elements were synthesized early on by massive stars, but current theories suggest that such a massive cluster should be rare in the early Universe.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 February 17 - Galaxy Cluster Lenses Farthest Known Galaxy
Explanation: Gravity can bend light, allowing whole clusters of galaxies to act as huge telescopes. Almost all of the bright objects in this just-released Hubble Space Telescope image are galaxies in the cluster known as Abell 2218. The cluster is so massive and so compact that its gravity bends and focuses the light from galaxies that lie behind it. As a result, multiple images of these background galaxies are distorted into long faint arcs - a simple lensing effect analogous to viewing distant street lamps through a glass of wine. The cluster of galaxies Abell 2218 is itself about two billion light-years away in the northern constellation Draco. The power of this massive cluster telescope has recently allowed astronomers to detect a galaxy at a redshift of about 7, the most distant galaxy or quasar yet measured. Three images of this young, still-maturing galaxy are faintly visible in the white contours near the image top and the lower right. The recorded light, further analyzed with a Keck Telescope, left this galaxy when the universe was only about five percent of its current age.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2003 October 12 - The Coma Cluster of Galaxies
Explanation: Almost every object in the above photograph is a galaxy. The Coma Cluster of Galaxies pictured above is one of the densest clusters known - it contains thousands of galaxies. Each of these galaxies houses billions of stars - just as our own Milky Way Galaxy does. Although nearby when compared to most other clusters, light from the Coma Cluster still takes hundreds of millions of years to reach us. In fact, the Coma Cluster is so big it takes light millions of years just to go from one side to the other! Most galaxies in Coma and other clusters are ellipticals, while most galaxies outside of clusters are spirals. The nature of Coma's X-ray emission is still being investigated.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2003 September 12 - A Note on the Perseus Cluster
Explanation: A truly enormous collection of thousands of galaxies, the Perseus Cluster - like other large galaxy clusters - is filled with hot, x-ray emitting gas. The x-ray hot gas (not the individual galaxies) appears in the left panel above, a false color image from the Chandra Observatory. The bright central source flanked by two dark cavities is the cluster's supermassive black hole. At right, the panel shows the x-ray image data specially processed to enhance contrasts and reveals a strikingly regular pattern of pressure waves rippling through the hot gas. In other words, sound waves, likely generated by bursts of activity from the black hole, are ringing through the Perseus Galaxy Cluster. Astronomers infer that these previously unknown sound waves are a source of energy which keeps the cluster gas so hot. So what note is the Perseus Cluster playing? Estimates of the distance between the wave peaks and sound speed in the cluster gas suggests the cosmic note is about 57 octaves below B-flat above middle C.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2003 August 14 - Dark Matter Map
Explanation: The total mass within giant galaxy cluster CL0025+1654, about 4.5 billion light-years away, produces a cosmic gravitational lens -- bending light as predicted by Einstein's theory of gravity and forming detectable images of even more distant background galaxies. Of course, the total cluster mass is the sum of the galaxies themselves, seen as ordinary luminous matter, plus the cluster's invisible dark matter whose nature remains unknown. But by analyzing the distribution of luminous matter and the properties of the gravitational lensing due to total cluster mass, researchers have solved the problem of tracing the dark matter layout. Their resulting map shows the otherwise invisible dark matter in blue, and the positions of the cluster galaxies in yellow. The work, based on extensive Hubble Space Telescope observations, reveals that the cluster's dark matter is not evenly distributed, but follows the clumps of luminous matter closely.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2003 August 12 - X-rays from Stephan's Quintet
Explanation: Stephan's Quintet is a picturesque but clearly troubled grouping of galaxies about 300 million light-years away toward the high-flying constellation Pegasus. Spanning over 200,000 light-years at that distance, this composite false-color image illustrates the powerful nature of this multiple galaxy collision, showing x-ray data from the Chandra Observatory in blue superposed on optical data in yellow. The x-rays from the central blue cloud running vertically through the image are produced by gas heated to millions of degrees by an energetic shock on a cosmic scale. The shock was likely the result of the interstellar gas in the large spiral galaxy, seen immediately to the right of the cloud, colliding with the quintet's tenuous intergalactic gas as this galaxy plunged through group's central regions. In fact, over billions of years, repeated passages of the group galaxies through the hot intergalactic gas should progressively strip them of their own star forming material. In this view, the large spiral galaxy just seen peeking above the bottom edge is an unrelated foreground galaxy a mere 35 million light-years distant.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2003 August 4 - In the Center of the Virgo Cluster
Explanation: The Virgo Cluster of Galaxies is the closest cluster of galaxies to our Milky Way Galaxy. The Virgo Cluster is so close that it spans more than 5 degrees on the sky - about 10 times the angle made by a full Moon. It contains over 100 galaxies of many types - including spiral, elliptical, and irregular galaxies. The Virgo Cluster is so massive that it is noticeably pulling our Galaxy toward it. The cluster contains not only galaxies filled with stars but also gas so hot it glows in X-rays. Motions of galaxies in and around clusters indicate that they contain more dark matter than any visible matter we can see. Pictured above, the center of the Virgo cluster might appear to some as a human face, and includes bright Messier galaxies M86 at the top, M84 on the far right, NGC 4388 at the bottom, and NGC 4387 in the middle.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2003 June 11 - Two Million Galaxies
Explanation: Our universe is filled with galaxies. Galaxies -- huge conglomerations of stars, gas, dust -- and mysterious dark matter are the basic building blocks of the large-scale universe. Although distant galaxies move away from each other as the universe expands, gravity attracts neighboring galaxies to each other, forming galaxy groups, clusters of galaxies, and even larger expansive filaments. Some of these structures are visible on one of the most comprehensive maps of the sky ever made in galaxies: the APM galaxy survey map completed in the early 1990s. Over 2 million galaxies are depicted above in a region 100 degrees across centered toward our Milky Way Galaxy's south pole. Bright regions indicate more galaxies, while bluer colors denote larger average galaxies. Dark ellipses have been cut away where bright local stars dominate the sky. Many scientific discoveries resulted from analyses of the map data, including that the universe was surprisingly complex on large scales.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2003 January 24 - Seyfert's Sextet
Explanation: Known as Seyfert's Sextet, this intriguing group of galaxies lies in the head portion of the split constellation Serpens. The sextet actually contains only four interacting galaxies, though. Near the center of this Hubble Space Telescope picture, the small face-on spiral galaxy lies in the distant background and appears only by chance aligned with the main group. Also, the prominent condensation on the far right is likely not a separate galaxy at all, but a tidal tail of stars flung out by the galaxies' gravitational interactions. About 190 million light-years away, the interacting galaxies are tightly packed into a region around 100,000 light-years across, comparable to the size of our own Milky Way galaxy, making this one of the densest known galaxy groups. Bound by gravity, the close-knit group may coalesce into a single large galaxy over the next few billion years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2003 January 9 - Abell 1689 Warps Space
Explanation: Two billion light-years away, galaxy cluster Abell 1689 is one of the most massive objects in the Universe. In this view from the Hubble Space Telescope's Advanced Camera for Surveys, Abell 1689 is seen to warp space as predicted by Einstein's theory of gravity -- bending light from individual galaxies which lie behind the cluster to produce multiple, curved images. The power of this enormous gravitational lens depends on its mass, but the visible matter, in the form of the cluster's yellowish galaxies, only accounts for about one percent of the mass needed to make the observed bluish arcing images of background galaxies. In fact, most of the gravitational mass required to warp space enough to explain this cosmic scale lensing is in the form of still mysterious dark matter. As the dominant source of the cluster's gravity, the dark matter's unseen presence is mapped out by the lensed arcs and distorted background galaxy images.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2002 July 8 - Weighing Empty Space
Explanation: Sometimes staring into empty space is useful. Pictured above is a region of sky that was picked because it had, well, nothing: no bright stars, no bright galaxies, and no picturesque nebulas. What could not be avoided, however, were a few stars in our own Galaxy, and many distant galaxies strewn across the universe. Now the more distant galaxies have their light slightly deflected by the gravity of more nearby galaxies, causing them to appear slightly distorted. By analyzing these gravitational lens distortions, nearby mass concentrations can be found, regardless of how bright they appear. Using this method, astronomers can now weigh entire clusters of galaxies and search for large groupings of relatively dark matter. Circled in the lower right of the above image is a cluster of galaxies that was found not by its light, but by its mass.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2002 June 1 - NGC 2266: Old Cluster in the New General Catalog
Explanation: The New General Catalog of star clusters and nebulae really isn't so new. In fact, it was published in 1888 - an attempt by J. L. E. Dreyer to consolidate the work of astronomers William, Caroline, and John Herschel along with others into a useful single, complete catalog of astronomical discoveries and measurements. Dreyer's work was successful and is still important today as this famous catalog continues to lend its "NGC" to bright clusters, galaxies, and nebulae. Take for example this star cluster known as NGC 2266 (item number 2,266 in the NGC compilation). It lies about 10,000 light-years distant in the constellation Gemini and represents an open or galactic cluster. With an age of about 1 billion years, NGC 2266 is old for a galactic cluster. Its evolved red giant stars are readily apparent in this gorgeous three-color image.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2002 March 28 - Centaurus Galaxy Cluster in X-Rays
Explanation: The Centaurus Cluster is a swarm of hundreds of galaxies a mere 170 million light-years away. Like other immense galaxy clusters, the Centaurus Cluster is filled with gas at temperatures of 10 million degrees or more, making the cluster a luminous source of cosmic x-rays. While individual galaxies are not seen here, this false-color x-ray image from the Chandra Observatory does reveal striking details of the central region's hot cluster gas, including a large twisted plume about 70,000 light-years long. Colors represent temperatures indicated by the x-ray data with red, yellow, green, and blue shades ranging in order from cool to hot. The plume of gas alone is estimated to contain material equivalent to about one billion times the mass of the Sun. It may be a wake of gas condensing and cooling along the path of the massive, dominant central galaxy moving through the cluster.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2002 March 6 - Simulated Galaxy Cluster View
Explanation: Stunningly detailed, this picture is a computer simulated view of a cluster of galaxies in the distant cosmos. A large, elliptical galaxy dominates this hypothetical cluster's central region surrounded by a swarm of member galaxies. Other galaxies which lie far behind the cluster are seen as numerous visible concentric arcs - lensed by the enormous gravitational field dominated by dark matter within the cluster itself. Such magnificent images are expected to be achieved by the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS), one of the upgrades being installed on the Hubble Space Telescope during the ongoing servicing mission. Compared to Hubble's workhorse Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2), whose achievements include the current deep field views of the Universe, the new technology ACS will be twice as sharp an imager with twice the field of view and five times the sensitivity. Along with extended views of the distant cosmos, enthusiastic astronomers also plan to use the ACS to monitor our own Solar System and to search for planets orbiting stars beyond the Sun.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2002 February 3 - The Coma Cluster of Galaxies
Explanation: Almost every object in the above photograph is a galaxy. The Coma Cluster of Galaxies pictured above is one of the densest clusters known - it contains thousands of galaxies. Each of these galaxies houses billions of stars - just as our own Milky Way Galaxy does. Although nearby when compared to most other clusters, light from the Coma Cluster still takes hundreds of millions of years to reach us. In fact, the Coma Cluster is so big it takes light millions of years just to go from one side to the other! Most galaxies in Coma and other clusters are ellipticals, while most galaxies outside of clusters are spirals. The nature of Coma's X-ray emission is still being investigated.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2002 January 19 - Stars Without Galaxies
Explanation: Galaxies are made up of stars, but are all stars found within galaxies? Using the Hubble Space Telescope, researchers exploring the Virgo Cluster of galaxies have found about 600 red giant stars adrift in intergalactic space. Above is an artist's vision of the sky from a hypothetical planet of such a lonely sun. The night sky on a world orbiting an intergalactic star would be a stark contrast to Earth's - which features a spectacle of stars, all members of our own Milky Way Galaxy. As suggested by the illustration, a setting red sun would leave behind a dark sky flecked only with faint, fuzzy, apparitions of Virgo Cluster galaxies. Possibly ejected from their home galaxies during galaxy-galaxy collisions, these isolated suns may well represent part of a large, previously unseen stellar population, filling the space between Virgo Cluster galaxies.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2001 October 24 - The Matter of Galaxy Clusters
Explanation: Situated over 2,000,000,000 (two billion) light-years from Earth, galaxies in cluster Abell 2390 (top) and MS2137.3-2353 (bottom) are seen in the right hand panels above, false-color images from the Hubble Space Telescope. Corresponding panels on the left reveal each cluster's x-ray appearance in images from the Chandra X-ray Observatory. While the Hubble images record the cluster's star-filled galaxies, the x-ray images show no galaxies at all ... only multi-million degree hot intracluster gas which glows in high energy x-rays. But there lies a profound mystery. The total mass in the galaxies on the right, plus the mass of the hot gas on the left, falls far short of providing enough gravity to confine the hot gas within the galaxy clusters. In fact, the best accounting to date can only find 13 per cent (!) of the total matter necessary. Gravitational lens arcs visible in the deep Hubble images also indicate these clusters have much more mass than directly identifiable in the Chandra and Hubble data. Astronomers conclude that most of the cluster matter is dark matter, invisible even to the combined far-seeing eyes of these orbiting astrophysical observatories. What is the nature of this cosmic dark matter?

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2001 October 7 - Abell 2218: A Galaxy Cluster Lens
Explanation: Gravity can bend light, allowing huge clusters of galaxies to act as telescopes. Almost all of the bright objects in this released Hubble Space Telescope image are galaxies in the cluster known as Abell 2218. The cluster is so massive and so compact that its gravity bends and focuses the light from galaxies that lie behind it. As a result, multiple images of these background galaxies are distorted into long faint arcs - a simple lensing effect analogous to viewing distant street lamps through a glass of wine. The cluster of galaxies Abell 2218 is itself about three billion light-years away in the northern constellation Draco. The power of this massive cluster telescope has recently allowed astronomers to detect a galaxy at redshift 5.58, the most distant galaxy yet measured. This young, still-maturing galaxy is faintly visible to the lower right of the cluster core.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2001 September 9 - NGC 3293: A Bright Young Open Cluster
Explanation: Hot blue stars shine brightly in this beautiful, recently formed galactic or "open" star cluster. Open cluster NGC 3293 is located in the constellation Carina, lies at a distance of about 8000 light years, and has a particularly high abundance of these young bright stars. A study of NGC 3293 implies that the blue stars are only about 6 million years old, whereas the cluster's dimmer, redder stars appear to be about 20 million years old. If true, star formation in this open cluster took at least 15 million years. Even this amount of time is short, however, when compared with the billions of years stars like our Sun live, and the over-ten billion year lifetimes of many galaxies and our universe. NGC 3293 appears just in front of a dense dust lane emanating from the Carina Nebula.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2001 August 23 - Distortion from a Distant Cluster
Explanation: This stunning color deep sky view toward the constellation Pisces was made with data from a fast, sensitive, digital detector known as the Big Throughput Camera operating at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile. Hardly noticeable in the original picture is the small cluster of about 15 galaxies nearly 3 billion light-years distant, circled at the lower right. In fact, this distant cluster was not discovered by noticing its appearance in the image at all, but instead by mapping the subtle distortions created by its gravity. As predicted by Einstein's General Relativity theory, the cluster's gravitational mass acts like a lens, bending light and distorting the shape of background galaxies. The effect is known as gravitational lensing. Computer mapping of weak distortions of background galaxy shapes across the Big Throughput image revealed that the large scale distribution of mass in that part of the sky was concentrated in a small region. That region turned out to correspond to the galaxy cluster -- the first time such an object has been discovered on the basis of its mass properties rather than its light.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2001 June 14 - Around The Arches Cluster
Explanation: The most compact cluster of stars known in our galaxy, the Arches cluster, boasts 100 or so massive, young stars contained within a diameter of one light-year. Seen toward the constellation Sagittarius, the Arches cluster is about 25,000 light-years from planet Earth and lies within a scant 100 light-years of the supermassive black hole believed to lurk in our Milky Way Galaxy's center. This combination of images in radio, infrared, and x-ray light illustrates this star cluster's bizarre galactic neighborhood. Shown in red, radio emission traces the filamentary arching structures near the galactic center around the Arches cluster location. Within the zoomed inset box, infrared image data shows some of the cluster's individual stars as bright point-like sources. The diffuse emission in blue surrounding the cluster stars is a false-color x-ray image of an enveloping cloud of 60 million degree gas -- the first time such an energetic star cluster halo has been detected. Astronomers consider the tightly packed and relatively nearby Arches cluster, an analog of the furious star forming regions in galaxies millions of light-years away.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2001 June 10 - Giant Cluster Bends, Breaks Images
Explanation: What are those strange blue objects? Many are images of a single, unusual, beaded, blue, ring-like galaxy which just happens to line-up behind a giant cluster of galaxies. Cluster galaxies here appear yellow and -- together with the cluster's dark matter -- act as a gravitational lens. A gravitational lens can create several images of background galaxies, analogous to the many points of light one would see while looking through a wine glass at a distant street light. The distinctive shape of this background galaxy -- which is probably just forming -- has allowed astronomers to deduce that it has separate images at 4, 8, 9 and 10 o'clock, from the center of the cluster. Possibly even the blue smudge just left of center is yet another image! This spectacular photo from the Hubble Space Telescope was taken in October 1994.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2001 June 8 - Three Galaxies in Draco
Explanation: This intriguing trio of galaxies is sometimes called the NGC 5985/Draco Group and so (quite reasonably) is located in the northern constellation Draco. From left to right are face-on spiral NGC 5985, elliptical galaxy NGC 5982, and edge-on spiral NGC 5981 -- all within this single telescopic field of view spanning a little more than half the width of the full moon. While this grouping is far too small to be a galaxy cluster and has not been cataloged as a compact group, these galaxies do lie roughly 100 million light-years from planet Earth. On close examination with spectrographs, the bright core of the striking face-on spiral NGC 5985 shows prominent emission in specific wavelengths of light, prompting astronomers to classify it as a Seyfert, a type of active galaxy. Not as well known as other tight groupings of galaxies, the contrast in visual appearance makes this triplet an attractive subject for avid astrophotographers.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2001 April 16 - The Hydra Cluster of Galaxies
Explanation: The Hydra Cluster of Galaxies contains well over 100 bright galaxies - but perhaps fewer galaxies than might be expected from its mass. Clusters of galaxies are the largest gravitationally bound objects in the universe. Most of a cluster's mass, however, appears to be in a form too dark to see, as analyses of the distribution of X-ray light, gravitational lensing, and internal motions indicate. Abell 1060, as the above cluster is also known, appears to have an even higher fraction of dark matter than seen in a similar cluster, a situation astronomers cannot easily reconcile with both clusters forming solely from gravitational attraction. The Hydra Cluster of Galaxies, named for its home constellation, spans about ten million light years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2001 February 22 - 3C294: Distant X Ray Galaxy Cluster
Explanation: Large clusters of galaxies are the most massive objects in the universe. Astronomers now realize that a hallmark of these cosmic behemoths are gas clouds with temperatures of tens of millions of degrees that pervade the clusters and radiate strongly in x-rays. This Chandra Observatory image centered on a radio galaxy cataloged as 3C294 indeed reveals the telltale hot x-ray gas in an hourglass shaped region surrounding the dominant galaxy and shows the presence of a massive galaxy cluster in the distant universe. Here the picture is color-coded by x-ray energy, red for low, green for medium, and blue for high energy x-rays. The cluster associated with 3C294 is 10 billion light-years away making it the most distant x-ray galaxy cluster ever detected. Objects at that extreme distance existed when the universe was young, a mere 20 percent of its present age. Impressively, this observation demonstrates that even at those early times massive clusters of galaxies were already present.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2001 January 26 - Galaxies Of The Virgo Cluster
Explanation: Well over a thousand galaxies are known members of the Virgo Cluster, the closest large cluster of galaxies to our own local group. The galaxy cluster is difficult to see all at once because it covers such a large area on the sky. Still, this excellent telescopic view records the region of the Virgo Cluster around its dominant giant elliptical galaxy M87. M87 can be seen as a fuzzy patch near the picture's bottom center. In fact, a close examination of the image will reveal that many of the "stars" are actually surrounded by a telltale fuzz, indicating that they are Virgo Cluster galaxies. How many galaxies can you pick out? Click on the image for an uncropped, labeled version which includes the NGC catalog numbers for most of the visible galaxies. On average, Virgo Cluster galaxies are measured to be about 48 million light-years away. The Virgo Cluster distance has been used to give an important determination of the Hubble Constant and the scale of the Universe.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2001 January 24 - NGC 3603: X-Rays From A Starburst Cluster
Explanation: A mere 20,000 light-years from the Sun lies the NGC 3603 star cluster, a resident of the nearby Carina spiral arm of our Milky Way galaxy. Seen here in this recent false-color x-ray image from the Chandra Observatory, NGC 3603 is well known to astronomers as a young cluster in a large galactic star-forming region. The image colors were chosen to show the relative x-ray brightness of the many individual sources present, where green are faint and red to purple hues are bright sources of x-rays. The stars in the cluster were formed in a single "burst" of star formation only one or two million years ago, so the x-rays are believed to come from the massive young stars themselves or from their energetic stellar winds. Since other common galactic sources of x-rays such as supernova remnants and neutron stars represent final stages in the life of a massive star, they are unlikely to be present in such a young cluster. Nearby NGC 3603 is thought to be a convenient example of the star clusters that populate distant starburst galaxies.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2000 December 8 - Abell 1795: A Galaxy Cluster s Cooling Flow
Explanation: Throughout the Universe, galaxies tend to swarm in groups ranging from just a handful of members to casts of thousands. Astronomers have realized since the early 1970s that the larger swarms, immense clusters of galaxies millions of light-years across, are immersed within tenuous clouds of hot gas which glow strongly in x-rays. These clouds may have been heated by their collapse in the early Universe, but in many galaxy clusters, the gas appears to be cooling. This Chandra Observatory x-ray image reveals a striking cooling flow in the central regions of the galaxy cluster cataloged as Abell 1795. Brighter pixels in the false-color image represent higher x-ray intensities. The bright filament down the center indicates gas condensing and cooling -- rapidly loosing energy by radiating x-rays. At the very top of the filament is a large, x-ray bright galaxy. As it moved through the cluster gas cloud, the massive galaxy's gravitational influence seems to have created this cosmic wake of denser, cooling gas. Continuing to cool, the cluster gas will ultimately provide raw material to form future generations of stars.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2000 November 13 - Disorder in Stephan's Quintet
Explanation: What are four closely grouped galaxies doing in this image? The grouping composes a majority of the large galaxies in Stephan's Quintet, with the fifth prominent galaxy located off the above image to the lower right. Three of these four galaxies show nearly the same redshift, indicating that they reside at the same distance from us. These three galaxies are in the midst a titanic collision, each ripping the others apart with gravitational tidal forces. The large bluish spiral below and left of center is a foreground galaxy much closer than the others and hence not involved in the cosmic battle. Most of Stephan's Quintet lies about 300 million light-years away towards the constellation of Pegasus.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2000 October 31 - The Perseus Cluster s X Ray Skull
Explanation: This haunting image from the orbiting Chandra Observatory reveals the Perseus Cluster of Galaxies in x-rays, photons with a thousand or more times the energy of visible light. Three hundred twenty million light-years distant, the Perseus Cluster contains thousands of galaxies, but none of them are seen here. Instead of mere galaxies, a fifty million degree cloud of intracluster gas, itself more massive than all the cluster's galaxies combined, dominates the x-ray view. From this angle, voids and bright knots in the x-ray hot gas cloud lend it a very suggestive appearance. Like eyes in a skull, two dark bubbles flank a bright central source of x-ray emission. A third elongated bubble (at about 5 o'clock) forms a toothless mouth. The bright x-ray source is likely a supermassive black hole at the cluster center with the bubbles blown by explosions of energetic particles ejected from the black hole and expanding into the immense gas cloud. Fittingly, the dark spot forming the skull's "nose" is an x-ray shadow ... the shadow of a large galaxy inexorably falling into the cluster center. Over a hundred thousand light-years across, the Perseus Cluster's x-ray skull is a bit larger than skulls you may see tonight. Have a safe and happy Halloween!

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2000 August 6 - The Coma Cluster of Galaxies
Explanation: Almost every object in the above photograph is a galaxy. The Coma Cluster of Galaxies pictured above is one of the densest clusters known - it contains thousands of galaxies. Each of these galaxies houses billions of stars - just as our own Milky Way Galaxy does. Although nearby when compared to most other clusters, light from the Coma Cluster still takes hundreds of millions of years to reach us. In fact, the Coma Cluster is so big it takes light millions of years just to go from one side to the other! Most galaxies in Coma and other clusters are ellipticals, while most galaxies outside of clusters are spirals. The nature of Coma's X-ray emission is still being investigated.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2000 June 15 - X-Rays From The Perseus Cluster Core
Explanation: The Perseus Cluster of thousands of galaxies, 320 million light-years distant, is one of the most massive objects in the Universe. At its core lies the giant cannibal galaxy Perseus A (NGC 1275), accreting matter as gas and galaxies fall into it. Representing low, medium, and high energy x-rays as red, green, and blue colours respectively, this Chandra X-ray Observatory image shows remarkable details of x-ray emission from this monster galaxy and surrounding hot (30-70 million degrees C) cluster gas. The bright central source is the supermassive black hole at the core of Perseus A itself. Dark circular voids just above and below the galaxy center, each about half the size of our own Milky Way Galaxy, are believed to be magnetic bubbles of energetic particles blown by the accreting black hole. Settling toward Perseus A, the cluster's x-ray hot gas piles up forming bright regions around the bubble rims. Dramatically, the long greenish wisp just above the galaxy's centre is likely the x-ray shadow produced by a small galaxy falling into the burgeoning Perseus A.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2000 April 23 - Giant Cluster Bends, Breaks Images
Explanation: What are those strange blue objects? Many are images of a single, unusual, beaded, blue, ring-like galaxy which just happens to line-up behind a giant cluster of galaxies. Cluster galaxies here appear yellow and -- together with the cluster's dark matter -- act as a gravitational lens. A gravitational lens can create several images of background galaxies, analogous to the many points of light one would see while looking through a wine glass at a distant street light. The distinctive shape of this background galaxy -- which is probably just forming -- has allowed astronomers to deduce that it has separate images at 4, 8, 9 and 10 o'clock, from the center of the cluster. Possibly even the blue smudge just left of center is yet another image! This spectacular photo from the Hubble Space Telescope was taken in October 1994.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2000 February 20 - The Virgo Cluster of Galaxies
Explanation: Pictured are several galaxies of the Virgo Cluster, the closest cluster of galaxies to our Milky Way Galaxy. The Virgo Cluster spans more than 5 degrees on the sky - about 10 times the angle made by a full Moon. It contains over 100 galaxies of many types - including spirals, ellipticals, and irregular galaxies. The Virgo Cluster is so massive that it is noticeably pulling our Galaxy toward it. The cluster contains not only galaxies filled with stars but also gas so hot it glows in X-rays. Motions of galaxies in and around clusters indicate that they contain more dark matter than any visible matter we can see. Notable bright galaxies in the Virgo Cluster include bright Messier objects such as M61, M87, M90, and M100.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2000 February 1 - Abell 2218: A Galaxy Cluster Lens
Explanation: Gravity can bend light. Almost all of the bright objects in this recently released Hubble Space Telescope image are galaxies in the cluster known as Abell 2218. The cluster is so massive and so compact that its gravity bends and focuses the light from galaxies that lie behind it. As a result, multiple images of these background galaxies are distorted into long faint arcs - a simple lensing effect analogous to viewing distant street lamps through a glass of wine. The cluster of galaxies Abell 2218 is itself about three billion light-years away in the northern constellation Draco.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2000 January 12 - NGC 6791: An Old, Large Open Cluster
Explanation: NGC 6791 is one of the oldest and largest open clusters of stars known. But how did it get so dirty? Open star clusters usually contain a few hundred stars each less than a billion years old. Open star cluster NGC 6791, however, contains thousands of stars recently measured to be about 8 billion years old. What's really confusing, though, is that the stars of NGC 6791 are relatively dirty - the minuscule amounts of heavy elements (generically called metals) are high relative to most other star clusters. Older stars are supposed to be metal poor, since metals have only been slowly accumulating in our Milky Way Galaxy. This enigma makes NGC 6791, pictured above, one of the most studied open clusters and a possible example of how stars might evolve in the centers of galaxies.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2000 January 4 - Galaxies Cluster Toward the Great Attractor
Explanation: Galaxies dot the sky like jewels in the direction of a mass so large it is known simply as the Great Attractor. The galaxies pictured above are part of a cluster of galaxies called ACO 3627 near the center of the Great Attractor. Previously, this cluster of galaxies, also known as the Norma Cluster, was largely unstudied because dust in the disk of our own Galaxy obscured much of its light. The Great Attractor is a diffuse mass concentration fully 250 million light-years away, but so large it pulls our own Milky Way Galaxy and millions of other galaxies towards it. Many of the galaxies in ACO 3627 are slowly heading towards collisions with each other.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: December 17, 1999 - Hot Gas In Hydra A
Explanation: The Hydra A galaxy cluster is really big. In fact, such clusters of galaxies are the largest gravitationally bound objects in the Universe. But individual galaxies are too cool to be recorded in this false-color Chandra Observatory X-ray image which shows only the 40 million degree gas that permeates the Hydra A cluster. Astronomers have discovered that such X-ray hot gas clouds, millions of light-years across, are common in galaxy clusters. They expected the gas to be cooling and smoothly flowing into the clusters' central regions to form new galaxies and stars. Instead, the Chandra image shows details around the X-ray bright cluster core which suggest that magnetic fields and explosive events disturb the flow, deflecting the gas into loops and long structures and possibly inhibiting the formation of more cluster galaxies and stars.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: November 21, 1999 - Elliptical Galaxy NGC 4881 in Coma
Explanation: Elliptical galaxies are unlike spiral galaxies and hence unlike our own Milky Way Galaxy. The giant elliptical galaxy named NGC 4881 on the upper left lies at the edge of the giant Coma Cluster of Galaxies. Elliptical galaxies are ellipsoidal in shape, contain no spiral arms, contain little interstellar gas or dust, and are found mostly in rich clusters of galaxies. Elliptical galaxies appear typically yellow-red, as opposed to spirals which have spiral arms that appear quite blue. Much speculation continues on how each type of galaxy can form, on whether ellipticals can evolve from colliding spirals, or spirals can be created from colliding ellipticals, or both. Besides the spiral galaxy on the right, all other images in this picture are of galaxies that lie well behind the Coma Cluster.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: July 22, 1999 - Cosmic Collisions in a Galaxy Cluster
Explanation: Hundreds of galaxies appear as faint smudges of light in this Hubble Space Telescope picture of galaxy cluster MS1054-03. Eight billion light-years away, the cluster is among the most distant known clusters of galaxies and is now reported to contain the largest number of colliding galaxies ever found in a cluster. Examples of these truly cosmic collisions are shown in the insets at the right. Disrupted by gravitational effects, the colliding galaxies are thought to merge over a billion years or so to form larger galaxies - a theory of galaxy formation which seems to be borne out by these results. Though galaxy collisions appear to have occurred much more frequently in the distant, early Universe, they are still seen to happen in the nearby, "close-to-present" Universe.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: April 29, 1999 - NGC 2266: Old Cluster in the New General Catalog
Explanation: The New General Catalog of star clusters and nebulae really isn't so new. In fact, it was published in 1888 - an attempt by J. L. E. Dreyer to consolidate the work of astronomers William, Caroline, and John Herschel along with others into a useful single, complete catalog of astronomical discoveries and measurements. Dreyer's work was successful and is still important today as this famous catalog continues to lend its acronym "NGC" to bright clusters, galaxies, and nebulae. Take for example this star cluster known as NGC 2266 (item number 2,266 in the NGC compilation). It lies about 10,000 light-years distant in the constellation Gemini and represents an open or galactic cluster. With an age of about 1 billion years, NGC 2266 is old for a galactic cluster. Its evolved red giant stars are readily apparent in this gorgeous three-color image.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: March 28, 1999 - The Coma Cluster of Galaxies
Explanation: Almost every object in the above photograph is a galaxy. The Coma Cluster of Galaxies pictured is one of the densest clusters known - it contains thousands of galaxies. Each of these galaxies house billions of stars - just as our own Milky Way Galaxy does. Although nearby when compared to most other clusters, light from the Coma Cluster still takes hundreds of millions of years to reach us. In fact, the Coma Cluster is so big it takes light millions of years just to go from one side to the other! Most galaxies in Coma and other clusters are ellipticals, while most galaxies outside of clusters are spirals. The nature of Coma's X-ray emission is still being investigated.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: March 27, 1999 - Stars Without Galaxies
Explanation: Galaxies are made up of stars, but are all stars found within galaxies? Using the Hubble Space Telescope, researchers exploring the Virgo Cluster of galaxies have now found about 600 red giant stars adrift in intergalactic space. Above is an artist's vision of the sky from a hypothetical planet of such a lonely sun. The night sky on a world orbiting an intergalactic star would be a stark contrast to Earth's - which features a spectacle of stars, all members of our own Milky Way galaxy. As suggested by the illustration, a setting swollen red sun would leave behind a dark sky flecked only with faint, fuzzy, apparitions of Virgo Cluster galaxies. Possibly ejected from their home galaxies during galaxy-galaxy collisions, these isolated suns may well represent part of a large, previously unseen stellar population, filling the space between Virgo Cluster galaxies.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: January 4, 1999 - Ring Around the Cluster
Explanation: It is difficult to hide a galaxy behind a cluster of galaxies. The closer cluster's gravity will act like a huge lens, pulling images of the distant galaxy around the sides and greatly distorting them. This is just the case observed in the above recently released image from the VLT. The cluster CL2244-02 is composed of many yellow galaxies and is lensing the image of a blue-white background galaxy into a huge arc. Careful inspection of the image will reveal at least one other lensed background galaxy appearing in red. The foreground cluster can only create such a smooth arc if most of its mass is smoothly distributed dark matter - and therefore not concentrated in the yellow galaxies visible. Analyzing these gravitational arcs gives astronomers a method to estimate the dark matter distribution in clusters of galaxies.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: October 17, 1998 - A Giant Globular Cluster in M31
Explanation: This cluster of stars, known as G1, is the brightest globular cluster in the whole Local Group of galaxies. Also called Mayall II, it orbits the center of the largest nearby galaxy: M31. G1 contains over 300,000 stars and is almost as old as the entire universe. In fact, observations of this globular star cluster show it to be as old as the oldest of the roughly 250 known globular clusters in our own Milky Way Galaxy. Two bright foreground stars appear in this image of G1 taken with the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope in July of 1994. It shows detail in the distant cluster comparable to ground-based telescopic views of globular star clusters in our own Galaxy.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: September 29, 1998 - A Peculiar Cluster of Galaxies
Explanation: Far across the universe, an unusual cluster of galaxies has been evolving. A diverse group of galaxies populate this cluster, including, on the left, an unusual galaxy showing an equatorial polar ring and a large spiral. Above looms a large elliptical galaxy. The reason for the small size of galaxies on the right is not yet known - these galaxies might be smaller or might just lie even farther in the distance. Almost every spot in this picture is a galaxy. Studying distant clusters like this may help astronomers better understand when and how these cosmic giants formed.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: September 8, 1998 - A Cluster Too Far
Explanation: Why is this galaxy cluster so red? Nearby clusters have galaxies with colors that are much more yellow and blue. A leading explanation is that this cluster of galaxies lies so far across our universe (z~1) that cosmological time dilation significantly reddens the light. If true, this cluster might lie too far away to have formed in a dense universe, implying that our universe is not very dense. HST 035528+09435 is one of the reddest clusters found in the Hubble Space Telescope's Medium Deep Survey. Astronomers will now work to confirm the high distance to this cluster, and contemplate what it signifies about the nature of our universe.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: August 31, 1998 - A3827: Cluster Cannibal
Explanation: It was mealtime in galaxy cluster Abell 3827. The hungry cluster dominant galaxy in A3827's center is seen being fed. Breakfast included five smaller galaxies unfortunate enough to wander too close to the cluster's central supergiant galaxy. The remnants of these five galaxies can be seen in the center of this false-color picture. A single massive galaxy dominates the centers of many compact clusters of galaxies. A3827 is so distant, having a redshift of 0.1, that light takes about 1.5 billion years to get here from there. We are therefore seeing this cluster only as it existed 1.5 billion years ago, so that these five galaxies are probably by now all digested into the huge cluster center.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: August 27, 1998 - Hercules Galaxies
Explanation: These are galaxies of the Hercules Cluster, an archipelago of "island universes" a mere 650 million light-years distant. This cluster is loaded with gas and dust rich, star forming, spiral galaxies but has relatively few elliptical galaxies, which lack gas and dust and the associated newborn stars. Colors in the composite image show the star forming galaxies with a blue tint and ellipticals with a slightly yellowish cast. In this cosmic vista many galaxies seem to be colliding or merging while others seem distorted - clear evidence that cluster galaxies commonly interact. Over time, the galaxy interactions are likely to affect the the content of the cluster itself. Researchers believe that the Hercules Cluster is significantly similar to young galaxy clusters in the distant, early Universe and that exploring galaxy types and their interactions in nearby Hercules will help unravel the threads of galaxy and cluster evolution.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: August 21, 1998 - A Massive Cluster In A Young Universe
Explanation: Conventional theories suggest that this cluster of galaxies should not exist. Each fuzzy spot in this false-color Hubble Space Telescope image of the central regions of a newly discovered galaxy cluster is a galaxy similar in mass to our own Milky Way. The cluster is one of the most massive known, contains thousands of galaxies, and is a few million light-years across. But it is also 8 billion light-years distant and so formed when the Universe was only about half its present age. Ironically, if the total mass of the Universe is large, modern theories predict that clusters of galaxies as massive as nearby clusters should not have existed at such early times and great distances. One explanation for this cluster's presence is that the Universe we live in is not massive enough to eventually halt its expansion - contradicting some current standard views of cosmology.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: August 15, 1998 - The Perseus Cluster of Galaxies
Explanation: Here is one of the largest objects that anyone will ever see on the sky. Each of the fuzzy blobs in the above picture is a galaxy, together making up the Perseus Cluster, one of the closest clusters of galaxies. We view the cluster through the foreground of faint stars in our own Milky Way Galaxy. It takes light roughly 300 million years to get here from this region of the Universe, so we see this cluster as it existed before the age of the dinosaurs. Also known as Abell 426, the center of the Perseus Cluster is a prodigious source of X-ray radiation, and so helps astronomers explore how clusters formed and how gas and dark matter interact. The Perseus Cluster of Galaxies is part of the Pisces-Perseus supercluster of galaxies, which spans over 15 degrees and contains over 1000 galaxies.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: June 14, 1998 - Giant Cluster Bends, Breaks Images
Explanation: What are those strange blue objects? Many are images of a single, unusual, beaded, blue, ring-like galaxy which just happens to line-up behind a giant cluster of galaxies. Cluster galaxies here appear yellow and -- together with the cluster's dark matter -- act as a gravitational lens. A gravitational lens can create several images of background galaxies, analogous to the many points of light one would see while looking through a wine glass at a distant street light. The distinctive shape of this background galaxy -- which is probably just forming -- has allowed astronomers to deduce that it has separate images at 4, 8, 9 and 10 o'clock, from the center of the cluster. Possibly even the blue smudge just left of center is yet another image! This spectacular photo from HST was taken in October 1994. The first cluster lens was found unexpectedly by Roger Lynds (NOAO) and Vahe Petrosian (Stanford) in 1986 while testing a new type of imaging device. Lensed arcs around this cluster, CL0024+1654, were first discovered from the ground by David Koo (UCO Lick) in 1988.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: March 29, 1998 - NGC 3293: A Bright Young Open Cluster
Explanation: Hot blue stars shine brightly in this beautiful, recently formed galactic or "open" star cluster. Open cluster NGC 3293 is located in the constellation Carina, lies at a distance of about 8000 light years, and has a particularly high abundance of these young bright stars. A study of NGC 3293 implies that the blue stars are only about 6 million years old, whereas the cluster's dimmer, redder stars appear to be about 20 million years old. If true, star formation in this open cluster took at least 15 million years. Even this amount of time is short, however, when compared with the billions of years stars like our Sun live, and the over-ten billion year lifetimes of many galaxies and our universe. NGC 3293 appears just in front dense dust lane emanating from the Carina Nebula.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: February 15, 1998 - Stars Without Galaxies
Explanation: Galaxies are made up of stars, but are all stars found within galaxies? Using the Hubble Space Telescope, researchers exploring the Virgo Cluster of galaxies have now found about 600 red giant stars adrift in intergalactic space. Above is an artist's vision of the sky from a hypothetical planet of such a lonely sun. The night sky on a world orbiting an intergalactic star would be a stark contrast to Earth's - which features a spectacle of stars, all members of our own Milky Way galaxy. As suggested by the illustration, a setting swollen red sun would leave behind a dark sky flecked only with faint, fuzzy, apparitions of Virgo Cluster galaxies. Possibly ejected from their home galaxies during galaxy-galaxy collisions, these isolated suns may well represent part of a large, previously unseen stellar population, filling the space between Virgo Cluster galaxies.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: January 11, 1998 - Abell 2218: A Galaxy Cluster Lens
Explanation: Gravity can bend light. Almost all of the bright objects in this Hubble Space Telescope image are galaxies in the cluster known as Abell 2218. The cluster is so massive and so compact that its gravity bends and focuses the light from galaxies that lie behind it. As a result, multiple images of these background galaxies are distorted into faint stretched out arcs - a simple lensing effect analogous to viewing distant street lamps through a glass of wine. The Abell 2218 cluster itself is about 3 billion light-years away in the northern constellation Draco.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: January 10, 1998 - Disorder in Stephan's Quintet
Explanation: What are five closely grouped galaxies doing in this image? The grouping is commonly known as Stephan's Quintet. Four of the galaxies show essentially the same redshift suggesting that they are at the same distance from us. The large bluish spiral below and left of center actually has a smaller redshift than the others, indicating it is much closer. It is probably a foreground object which happens to lie along the line of sight to the more distant galaxies. Of the four distant galaxies, three seem to be colliding, showing serious distortions due to gravitational tidal forces. The fourth is a normal appearing elliptical galaxy (at the lower right edge of the field). Recent results suggest that collisions play an important role in the life cycles of galaxies.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: December 13, 1997 - The Coma Cluster of Galaxies
Explanation: Almost every object in the above photograph is a galaxy. The Coma Cluster of Galaxies pictured is one of the densest clusters known - it contains thousands of galaxies. Each of these galaxies house billions of stars - just as our own Milky Way Galaxy does. Although nearby when compared to most other clusters, light from the Coma Cluster still takes hundreds of millions of years to reach us. In fact, the Coma Cluster is so big it takes light millions of years just to go from one side to the other! Most galaxies in Coma and other clusters are ellipticals, while most galaxies outside of clusters are spirals. The nature of Coma's X-ray emission is still being investigated.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: December 7, 1997 - A Distant Cluster of Galaxies
Explanation: In this 1994 Hubble Space Telescope photograph, every bright object is a galaxy. Oddly - most of them are spiral galaxies. This rich cluster of galaxies, named CL 0939+4713, is almost half way across the visible universe. Photos like this indicate that clusters in the past contained a higher fraction of spirals than do nearby clusters which are usually dominated by elliptical galaxies.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: August 9, 1997 - The Hydra Cluster of Galaxies
Explanation: You are flying through space and come to ... the Hydra Cluster of Galaxies. Listed as Abell 1060, the Hydra Cluster contains well over 100 bright galaxies. Clusters of galaxies are the largest gravitationally-bound objects in the universe. All of the bright extended images in the above picture are galaxies in the Hydra Cluster with the exception of unrelated diffraction crosses centered on bright stars. Several proximate clusters and galaxy groups might together create an even larger entity - a supercluster - but these clumps of matter are not (yet) falling toward each other. In fact, the Hydra cluster is thought to be part of the Hydra-Centaurus Supercluster of galaxies. Similarly, our own Milky Way Galaxy is part of the Local Group of Galaxies which is part of the Virgo Supercluster of Galaxies.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: May 3, 1997 - Giant Cluster Bends, Breaks Galaxy Images
Explanation: What are those strange blue objects? Many are images of a single, unusual, beaded, blue, ring-like galaxy which just happens to line-up behind a giant cluster of galaxies. Cluster galaxies here appear yellow and -- together with the cluster's dark matter -- act as a gravitational lens. A gravitational lens can create several images of background galaxies, analogous to the many points of light one would see while looking through a wine glass at a distant street light. The distinctive shape of this background galaxy -- which is probably just forming -- has allowed astronomers to deduce that it has separate images at 4, 8, 9 and 10 o'clock, from the center of the cluster. Possibly even the blue smudge just left of center is yet another image! This spectacular photo from HST was taken in October 1994. The first cluster lens was found unexpectedly by Roger Lynds (NOAO) and Vahe Petrosian (Stanford) in 1986 while testing a new type of imaging device. Lensed arcs around this cluster, CL0024+1654, were first discovered from the ground by David Koo (UCO Lick) in 1988.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: April 26, 1997 - The Perseus Cluster of Galaxies
Explanation: Here is one of the largest objects that anyone will ever see on the sky. Each of the fuzzy blobs in the above picture is a galaxy, together making up the Perseus Cluster, one of the closest clusters of galaxies. We view the cluster through the foreground of faint stars in our own Milky Way Galaxy. It takes light roughly 300 million years to get here from there, so we only see this cluster as it existed during the age of the dinosaurs. Also known as Abell 426, the center of Perseus cluster is a prodigious source of X-ray radiation, and so helps astronomers study how clusters formed and how gas and dark matter interact. The Perseus Cluster of Galaxies is part of the Pisces-Perseus supercluster of galaxies, which spans over 15 degrees and contains over 1000 galaxies.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: February 3, 1997 - Stars Without Galaxies
Explanation: Galaxies are made up of stars, but are all stars found within galaxies? Apparently not. Using the Hubble Space Telescope, researchers exploring the Virgo Cluster of galaxies have now found about 600 red giant stars adrift in intergalactic space. Above is an artist's vision of the sky from a hypothetical planet of such a lonely sun. The night sky on a world orbiting an intergalactic star would be a stark contrast to Earth's - which features a nightly parade of stars, all members of our own Milkyway galaxy. As suggested by the illustration, a setting swollen red sun would leave behind a dark sky speckled only with faint, fuzzy, apparitions of Virgo Cluster galaxies. Possibly ejected from their home galaxies during galaxy-galaxy collisions, these isolated suns may well represent part of a large, previously unseen stellar population, filling the the space between Virgo cluster galaxies.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: January 22, 1997 - Galaxy Cluster A2199
Explanation: It's bigger than a bread box. In fact, it's much bigger than all bread boxes put together. Abell 2199 is huge. In fact, it is a close, large cluster of galaxies, containing several thousands of galaxies centered around a central dominant galaxy. "Close," however, is only relative to other clusters of galaxies, since light takes about 50 million years to reach us from A2199. All of the fuzzy objects in the above picture are galaxies, but these galaxies do not contain most of the matter in the cluster. By studying clusters like A2199, astronomers conclude that some form of dark matter dominates the motion of the bright galaxies. What, exactly, this dark matter is poses one of the greatest astronomical puzzles of modern times.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: December 13, 1996 - Disorder in Stephan's Quintet
Explanation: Five closely grouped galaxies are visible in this image made using the Kitt Peak National Observatory 2.1 meter telescope. The grouping is commonly known as Stephan's Quintet. Four of the galaxies show essentially the same redshift suggesting that they are at the same distance from us. The large bluish spiral below and left of center actually has a smaller redshift than the others, indicating it is much closer. It is probably a foreground object which happens to lie along the line of sight to the more distant galaxies. Of the four distant galaxies, three seem to be colliding, showing serious distortions due to gravitational tidal forces. The fourth is a normal appearing elliptical galaxy (at the lower right edge of the field). Recent results suggest that collisions play an important role in the life cycles of galaxies.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: November 6, 1996 - Elliptical Galaxy NGC 4881 in Coma
Explanation: Elliptical galaxies are unlike spiral galaxies and hence unlike our own Milky Way Galaxy. The giant elliptical galaxy named NGC 4881 on the upper left lies at the edge of the giant Coma Cluster of Galaxies. Elliptical galaxies are ellipsoidal in shape, contain no spiral arms, contain little interstellar gas or dust, and are found mostly in rich clusters of galaxies. Elliptical galaxies appear typically yellow-red, as opposed to spirals which have spiral arms that appear quite blue. Much speculation continues on how each type of galaxy can form, on whether ellipticals can evolve from colliding spirals, or spirals can be created from colliding ellipticals, or both. Besides the spiral galaxy on the right, all other images in this picture are of galaxies that lie well behind the Coma Cluster.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: November 5, 1996 - The Coma Cluster of Galaxies
Explanation: Almost every object in the above photograph is a galaxy. The Coma Cluster of Galaxies pictured is one of the densest clusters known - it contains thousands of galaxies. Each of these galaxies house billions of stars - just like our own Milky Way Galaxy. Although nearby when compared to most other clusters, light from the Coma Cluster still takes hundreds of millions of years to reach us. In fact, the Coma Cluster is so big it takes light millions of years just to go from one side to the other! Most galaxies in Coma and other clusters are ellipticals, while most galaxies outside of clusters are spirals. The nature of Coma's X-ray emission is still being investigated.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: August 23, 1996 - NGC 3293: A Bright Young Open Cluster
Explanation: Hot Blue stars shine brightly in this beautiful, recently formed galactic or "open" star cluster. Open cluster NGC 3293 is located in the constellation Carina, lies at a distance of about 8000 light years, and has a particularly high abundance of these young bright stars. A study of NGC 3293 implies that the blue stars are only about 6 million years old, whereas the cluster's dimmer, redder stars appear to be about 20 million years old. If true, star formation in this open cluster took at least 15 million years. Even this amount of time is short, however, when compared with the billions of years stars like our Sun live, and the over-ten billion year lifetimes of many galaxies and our universe. NGC 3293 appears just in front dense dust lane emanating from the Carina Nebula.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: August 1, 1996 - The Hydra Cluster of Galaxies
Explanation: You are flying through space and come to ... the Hydra Cluster of Galaxies. Listed as Abell 1060, the Hydra Cluster contains well over 100 bright galaxies. Clusters of galaxies are the largest gravitationally-bound objects in the universe. All of the bright extended images in the above picture are galaxies in the Hydra Cluster with the exception of unrelated diffraction crosses centered on bright stars. Several proximate clusters and galaxy groups might together create an even larger entity - a supercluster - but these clumps of matter are not (yet) falling toward each other. In fact, the Hydra cluster is thought to be part of the Hydra-Centaurus Supercluster of galaxies. Similarly, our own Milky Way Galaxy is part of the Local Group of Galaxies which is part of the Virgo Supercluster of Galaxies.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: April 26, 1996 - A Giant Globular Cluster in M31
Explanation: G1, pictured above, is the brightest known globular cluster in the whole Local Group of galaxies. Also called Mayall II, it orbits the center of the largest nearby galaxy: M31. G1 contains over 300,000 stars and is almost as old as the entire universe. In fact, observations of this globular cluster show stars as old as the oldest of the roughly 250 known globular clusters in our own Milky Way Galaxy. This image was taken with the Hubble Space Telescope in July of 1994. It shows, for the first time, the same fine detail in a distant globular cluster as can be discerned from a ground-based telescope of a globular cluster in our own Galaxy.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: April 24, 1996 - Giant Cluster Bends, Breaks Galaxy Images
Explanation: What are those strange blue objects? Many are images of a single, unusual, beaded, blue, ring-like galaxy which just happens to line-up behind a giant cluster of galaxies. Cluster galaxies here appear yellow and -- together with the cluster's dark matter -- act as a gravitational lens. A gravitational lens can create several images of background galaxies, analogous to the many points of light one would see while looking through a wine glass at a distant street light. The distinctive shape of this background galaxy -- which is probably just forming -- has allowed astronomers to deduce that it has separate images at 4, 8, 9 and 10 o'clock, from the center of the cluster. Possibly even the blue smudge just left of center is yet another image! This spectacular photo from HST was taken in October 1994. The first cluster lens was found unexpectedly by Roger Lynds (NOAO) and Vahe Petrosian (Stanford) in 1986 while testing a new type of imaging device. Lensed arcs around this cluster, CL0024+1654, were first discovered from the ground by David Koo (UCO Lick) in 1988.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: April 19, 1996 - The Virgo Cluster: Hot Plasma and Dark Matter
Explanation: This ROSAT image of the Virgo cluster of galaxies reveals a hot X-ray emitting plasma or gas with a temperature of 10-100 million degrees pervading the cluster. False colors have been used to represent the intensity of X-ray emission. The large area of X-ray emission, just below and left of center, is about 1 million light-years across. The giant elliptical galaxy M87, the biggest member of the cluster, is centered in that area while other cluster members are scattered around it. By adding up the amount of X-ray emitting gas astronomers have found that its total mass is up to 5 times the total mass of the cluster galaxies themselves - yet all this matter still does not produce nearly enough gravity to keep the cluster from flying apart! Where is the unseen mass? Because galaxy clusters are the largest structures in the Universe, this mysterious Dark Matter must dominate the cosmos but its nature is still an open question.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: April 5, 1996 - The Perseus Cluster of Galaxies
Explanation: Here is one of the largest objects that anyone will ever see on the sky. Each of the fuzzy blobs in the above picture is a galaxy, together making up the Perseus Cluster, one of the closest clusters of galaxies. We view the cluster through the foreground of faint stars in our own Milky Way galaxy. It takes light roughly 300 million years to get here from there, so we only see this cluster as it existed during the age of the dinosaurs. Also known as Abell 426, the center of Perseus cluster is a prodigious source of X-ray radiation, and so helps us study how clusters formed and how gas and dark matter interact. The Perseus Cluster of Galaxies is part of the Pisces-Perseus supercluster of galaxies, which spans over 15 degrees and contains over 1000 galaxies.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: January 14, 1996 - A Distant Cluster of Galaxies
Explanation: Every bright object in this 1994 photograph by the Hubble Space Telescope is a galaxy. Oddly - most of the objects are spiral galaxies. This rich cluster of galaxies, named CL 0939+4713, is almost half way across the visible universe. Photos like this indicate that clusters in the past contained a higher fraction of spirals than do nearby clusters, which are usually dominated by elliptical galaxies.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: November 15, 1995 - A Quintet of Galaxies
Explanation: Five closely grouped galaxies are visible in this image made using the Kitt Peak National Observatory 2.1 meter telescope. The grouping is commonly known as Stephan's Quintet. Four of the galaxies show essentially the same redshift suggesting that they are at the same distance from us. The large bluish spiral below and left of center actually has a smaller redshift than the others, indicating it is much closer. It is probably a foreground object which happens to lie along the line of sight to the more distant galaxies. Of the four distant galaxies, three seem to be colliding, showing serious distortions due to gravitational tidal forces. The fourth is a normal appearing elliptical galaxy (at the lower right edge of the field). Recent results suggest that collisions play an important role in the life cycles of galaxies.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: November 13, 1995 - Virgo Cluster Galaxies
Explanation: Pictured are several galaxies of the Virgo Cluster, the closest cluster of galaxies to the Milky Way. The Virgo Cluster spans more than 5 degrees on the sky - about 10 times the angle made by a full Moon. It contains over 100 galaxies of many types - including spirals, ellipticals, and irregular galaxies. The Virgo Cluster is so massive that it is noticeably pulling our Galaxy toward it. The above picture includes two galaxies that are also Messier objects: M84 and M86. M84 is the bright elliptical galaxy just above the center of the photograph, and M86 is the bright elliptical galaxy to its right.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: September 17, 1995 - Thousands of Coma Cluster Galaxies
Explanation: Almost every object in the above photograph is a galaxy. The Coma Cluster of galaxies pictured is a dense cluster containing many thousands of galaxies. Many of these galaxies contain as many stars as our own Milky Way Galaxy. Although nearby when compared to most other clusters, light from the Coma Cluster still takes hundreds of millions of years to reach us. In fact, the Coma Cluster is so big it takes light millions of years just to go from one side to the other! This picture was created at the WWW site Skyview, a "virtual observatory" where it is possible to view any part of the sky in wavelengths from radio to gamma-ray.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: July 10, 1995 - Abell 2218: A Galaxy Cluster Lens
Explanation: Sometimes one of the largest concentrations of mass known can act like a lens. Almost all of the bright objects in this image are galaxies in the cluster known as Abell 2218. The cluster is so massive and so compact that it bends light from galaxies that lie behind it, causing many of them to appear as stretched out arcs. Many dim, elongated arcs are visible on this photograph. This picture was taken with the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 on board the Hubble Space Telescope.


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