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Astronomy Picture of the Day
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Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2024 April 15 – The Cigar Galaxy from Hubble and Webb
Explanation: Something strange happened to this galaxy, but what? Known as the Cigar Galaxy and cataloged as M82, red glowing gas and dust are being cast out from the center. Although this starburst galaxy was surely stirred up by a recent pass near its neighbor, large spiral galaxy M81, this doesn't fully explain the source of the red-glowing outwardly expanding gas and dust. Evidence indicates that this material is being driven out by the combined emerging particle winds of many stars, together creating a galactic superwind. In the featured images, a Hubble Space Telescope image in visible light is shown on the left, while a James Webb Space Telescope image of the central region in infrared light is shown on the right. Detailed inspection of the new Webb image shows, unexpectedly, that this red-glowing dust is associated with hot plasma. Research into the nature of this strange nearby galaxy will surely continue.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2024 March 6 – M102: Edge on Disk Galaxy
Explanation: What kind of celestial object is this? A relatively normal galaxy -- but seen from its edge. Many disk galaxies are actually just as thin as NGC 5866, the Spindle galaxy, pictured here, but are not seen edge-on from our vantage point. A perhaps more familiar galaxy seen edge-on is our own Milky Way galaxy. Also cataloged as M102, the Spindle galaxy has numerous and complex dust lanes appearing dark and red, while many of the bright stars in the disk give it a more blue underlying hue. The blue disk of young stars can be seen in this Hubble image extending past the dust in the extremely thin galactic plane. There is evidence that the Spindle galaxy has cannibalized smaller galaxies over the past billion years or so, including multiple streams of faint stars, dark dust that extends away from the main galactic plane, and a surrounding group of galaxies (not shown). In general, many disk galaxies become thin because the gas that forms them collides with itself as it rotates about the gravitational center. The Spindle galaxy lies about 50 million light years distant toward the constellation of the Dragon (Draco).

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2024 February 18 – Hoags Object: A Nearly Perfect Ring Galaxy
Explanation: Is this one galaxy or two? This question came to light in 1950 when astronomer Arthur Hoag chanced upon this unusual extragalactic object. On the outside is a ring dominated by bright blue stars, while near the center lies a ball of much redder stars that are likely much older. Between the two is a gap that appears almost completely dark. How Hoag's Object formed, including its nearly perfectly round ring of stars and gas, remains unknown. Genesis hypotheses include a galaxy collision billions of years ago and the gravitational effect of a central bar that has since vanished. The featured photo was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope and reprocessed using an artificially intelligent de-noising algorithm. Observations in radio waves indicate that Hoag's Object has not accreted a smaller galaxy in the past billion years. Hoag's Object spans about 100,000 light years and lies about 600 million light years away toward the constellation of the Snake (Serpens). Many galaxies far in the distance are visible toward the right, while coincidentally, visible in the gap at about seven o'clock, is another but more distant ring galaxy.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2023 September 25 – Arp 142: The Hummingbird Galaxy
Explanation: What's happening to this spiral galaxy? Just a few hundred million years ago, NGC 2936, the upper of the two large galaxies shown at the bottom, was likely a normal spiral galaxy -- spinning, creating stars -- and minding its own business. But then it got too close to the massive elliptical galaxy NGC 2937, just below, and took a turn. Sometimes dubbed the Hummingbird Galaxy for its iconic shape, NGC 2936 is not only being deflected but also being distorted by the close gravitational interaction. Behind filaments of dark interstellar dust, bright blue stars form the nose of the hummingbird, while the center of the spiral appears as an eye. Alternatively, the galaxy pair, together known as Arp 142, look to some like Porpoise or a penguin protecting an egg. The featured re-processed image showing Arp 142 in great detail was taken recently by the Hubble Space Telescope. Arp 142 lies about 300 million light years away toward the constellation of the Water Snake (Hydra). In a billion years or so the two galaxies will likely merge into one larger galaxy.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2023 August 29 – Unusual Spiral Galaxy M66 from Webb
Explanation: Why isn't spiral galaxy M66 symmetric? Usually, density waves of gas, dust, and newly formed stars circle a spiral galaxy's center and create a nearly symmetric galaxy. The differences between M66's spiral arms and the apparent displacement of its nucleus are all likely caused by previous close interactions and the tidal gravitational pulls of nearby galaxy neighbors M65 and NGC 3628. The galaxy, featured here in infrared light taken by the James Webb Space Telescope, spans about 100,000 light years, lies about 35 million light years distant, and is the largest galaxy in a group known as the Leo Triplet. Like many spiral galaxies, the long and intricate dust lanes of M66 are seen intertwined with the bright stars and intergalactic dust that follow the spiral arms.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2023 August 13 – The Sombrero Galaxy in Infrared
Explanation: This floating ring is the size of a galaxy. In fact, it is a galaxy -- or at least part of one: the photogenic Sombrero Galaxy, one of the largest galaxies in the nearby Virgo Cluster of Galaxies. The dark band of dust that obscures the mid-section of the Sombrero Galaxy in optical light actually glows brightly in infrared light. The featured image, digitally sharpened, shows the infrared glow, recently recorded by the orbiting Spitzer Space Telescope, superposed in false-color on an existing image taken by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope in visible light. The Sombrero Galaxy, also known as M104, spans about 50,000 light years across and lies 28 million light years away. M104 can be seen with a small telescope in the direction of the constellation Virgo.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2023 August 2 – M82: Galaxy with a Supergalactic Wind
Explanation: Why is the Cigar Galaxy billowing red smoke? M82, as this starburst galaxy is also known, was stirred up by a recent pass near large spiral galaxy M81. This doesn't fully explain the source of the red-glowing outwardly expanding gas and dust, however. Evidence indicates that this gas and dust is being driven out by the combined emerging particle winds of many stars, together creating a galactic superwind. The dust particles are thought to originate in M82's interstellar medium and are actually similar in size to particles in cigar smoke. The featured photographic mosaic highlights a specific color of red light strongly emitted by ionized hydrogen gas, showing detailed filaments of this gas and dust. The filaments extend for over 10,000 light years. The 12-million light-year distant Cigar Galaxy is the brightest galaxy in the sky in infrared light and can be seen in visible light with a small telescope towards the constellation of the Great Bear (Ursa Major).

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2023 July 20 - M64: The Black Eye Galaxy
Explanation: This magnificent spiral galaxy is Messier 64, often called the Black Eye Galaxy or the Sleeping Beauty Galaxy for its dark-lidded appearance in telescopic views. The spiral's central region, about 7,400 light-years across, is pictured in this reprocessed image from the Hubble Space Telescope. M64 lies some 17 million light-years distant in the otherwise well-groomed northern constellation Coma Berenices. The enormous dust clouds partially obscuring M64's central region are laced with young, blue star clusters and the reddish glow of hydrogen associated with star forming regions. But imposing clouds of dust are not this galaxy's only peculiar feature. Observations show that M64 is actually composed of two concentric, counter-rotating systems. While all the stars in M64 rotate in the same direction as the interstellar gas in the galaxy's central region, gas in the outer regions, extending to about 40,000 light-years, rotates in the opposite direction. The dusty eye and bizarre rotation are likely the result of a billion year old merger of two different galaxies.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2023 July 12 – Rings and Bar of Spiral Galaxy NGC 1398
Explanation: Why do some spiral galaxies have a ring around the center? Spiral galaxy NGC 1398 not only has a ring of pearly stars, gas and dust around its center, but a bar of stars and gas across its center, and spiral arms that appear like ribbons farther out. The featured deep image from Observatorio El Sauce in Chile shows the grand spiral galaxy in impressive detail. NGC 1398 lies about 65 million light years distant, meaning the light we see today left this galaxy when dinosaurs were disappearing from the Earth. The photogenic galaxy is visible with a small telescope toward the constellation of the Furnace (Fornax). The ring near the center is likely an expanding density wave of star formation, caused either by a gravitational encounter with another galaxy, or by the galaxy's own gravitational asymmetries.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2023 May 31 – Simulation: A Disk Galaxy Forms
Explanation: How did we get here? We know that we live on a planet orbiting a star orbiting a galaxy, but how did all of this form? Since our universe moves too slowly to watch, faster-moving computer simulations are created to help find out. Specifically, this featured video from the IllustrisTNG collaboration tracks gas from the early universe (redshift 12) until today (redshift 0). As the simulation begins, ambient gas falls into and accumulates in a region of relatively high gravity. After a few billion years, a well-defined center materializes from a strange and fascinating cosmic dance. Gas blobs -- some representing small satellite galaxies -- continue to fall into and become absorbed by the rotating galaxy as the present epoch is reached and the video ends. For the Milky Way Galaxy, however, big mergers may not be over -- recent evidence indicates that our large spiral disk Galaxy will collide and coalesce with the slightly larger Andromeda spiral disk galaxy in the next few billion years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2023 May 4 - The Galaxy, the Jet, and a Famous Black Hole
Explanation: Bright elliptical galaxy Messier 87 (M87) is home to the supermassive black hole captured in 2017 by planet Earth's Event Horizon Telescope in the first ever image of a black hole. Giant of the Virgo galaxy cluster about 55 million light-years away, M87 is the large galaxy rendered in blue hues in this infrared image from the Spitzer Space telescope. Though M87 appears mostly featureless and cloud-like, the Spitzer image does record details of relativistic jets blasting from the galaxy's central region. Shown in the inset at top right, the jets themselves span thousands of light-years. The brighter jet seen on the right is approaching and close to our line of sight. Opposite, the shock created by the otherwise unseen receding jet lights up a fainter arc of material. Inset at bottom right, the historic black hole image is shown in context, at the center of giant galaxy and relativistic jets. Completely unresolved in the Spitzer image, the supermassive black hole surrounded by infalling material is the source of enormous energy driving the relativistic jets from the center of active galaxy M87. The Event Horizon Telescope image of M87 has now been enhanced to reveal a sharper view of the famous supermassive black hole.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2023 April 1 - NGC 2442: Galaxy in Volans
Explanation: Distorted galaxy NGC 2442 can be found in the southern constellation of the flying fish, (Piscis) Volans. Located about 50 million light-years away, the galaxy's two spiral arms extending from a pronounced central bar give it a hook-shaped appearance in this deep colorful image, with spiky foreground stars scattered across the telescopic field of view. The image also reveals the distant galaxy's obscuring dust lanes, young blue star clusters and reddish star forming regions surrounding a core of yellowish light from an older population of stars. But the star forming regions seem more concentrated along the drawn-out (upper right) spiral arm. The distorted structure is likely the result of an ancient close encounter with the smaller galaxy seen near the top left of the frame. The two interacting galaxies are separated by about 150,000 light-years at the estimated distance of NGC 2442.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2023 February 18 - Barred Spiral Galaxy NGC 1365 from Webb
Explanation: A mere 56 million light-years distant toward the southern constellation Fornax, NGC 1365 is an enormous barred spiral galaxy about 200,000 light-years in diameter. That's twice the size of our own barred spiral Milky Way. This sharp image from the James Webb Space Telescope's Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) reveals stunning details of this magnificent spiral in infrared light. Webb's field of view stretches about 60,000 light-years across NGC 1365, exploring the galaxy's core and bright newborn star clusters. The intricate network of dusty filaments and bubbles is created by young stars along spiral arms winding from the galaxy's central bar. Astronomers suspect the gravity field of NGC 1365's bar plays a crucial role in the galaxy's evolution, funneling gas and dust into a star-forming maelstrom and ultimately feeding material into the active galaxy's central, supermassive black hole.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2023 January 20 - Galaxy Wars: M81 and M82
Explanation: The two dominant galaxies near center are far far away, 12 million light-years distant toward the northern constellation of the Great Bear. On the right, with grand spiral arms and bright yellow core is spiral galaxy M81. Also known as Bode's galaxy, M81 spans some 100,000 light-years. On the left is cigar-shaped irregular galaxy M82. The pair have been locked in gravitational combat for a billion years. Gravity from each galaxy has profoundly affected the other during a series of cosmic close encounters. Their last go-round lasted about 100 million years and likely raised density waves rippling around M81, resulting in the richness of M81's spiral arms. M82 was left with violent star forming regions and colliding gas clouds so energetic that the galaxy glows in X-rays. In the next few billion years, their continuing gravitational encounters will result in a merger, and a single galaxy will remain. This extragalactic scenario also includes other members of the interacting M81 galaxy group with NGC 3077 below and right of the large spiral, and NGC 2976 at upper right in the frame. Captured under dark night skies in the Austrian Alps, the foreground of the wide-field image is filled with integrated flux nebulae. Those faint, dusty interstellar clouds reflect starlight above the plane of our own Milky Way galaxy.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2022 November 3 - M33: The Triangulum Galaxy
Explanation: The small, northern constellation Triangulum harbors this magnificent face-on spiral galaxy, M33. Its popular names include the Pinwheel Galaxy or just the Triangulum Galaxy. M33 is over 50,000 light-years in diameter, third largest in the Local Group of galaxies after the Andromeda Galaxy (M31), and our own Milky Way. About 3 million light-years from the Milky Way, M33 is itself thought to be a satellite of the Andromeda Galaxy and astronomers in these two galaxies would likely have spectacular views of each other's grand spiral star systems. As for the view from the Milky Way, this sharp image combines data from telescopes on and around planet Earth to show off M33's blue star clusters and pinkish star forming regions along the galaxy's loosely wound spiral arms. In fact, the cavernous NGC 604 is the brightest star forming region, seen here at about the 1 o'clock position from the galaxy center. Like M31, M33's population of well-measured variable stars have helped make this nearby spiral a cosmic yardstick for establishing the distance scale of the Universe.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2022 October 24 - Clouds Around Galaxy Andromeda
Explanation: What are those red clouds surrounding the Andromeda galaxy? This galaxy, M31, is often imaged by planet Earth-based astronomers. As the nearest large spiral galaxy, it is a familiar sight with dark dust lanes, bright yellowish core, and spiral arms traced by clouds of bright blue stars. A mosaic of well-exposed broad and narrow-band image data, this deep portrait of our neighboring island universe offers strikingly unfamiliar features though, faint reddish clouds of glowing ionized hydrogen gas in the same wide field of view. Most of the ionized hydrogen clouds surely lie in the foreground of the scene, well within our Milky Way Galaxy. They are likely associated with the pervasive, dusty interstellar cirrus clouds scattered hundreds of light-years above our own galactic plane. Some of the clouds, however, occur right in the Andromeda galaxy itself, and some in M110, the small galaxy just below.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2022 October 16 - Barred Spiral Galaxy NGC 1300
Explanation: Across the center of this spiral galaxy is a bar. And at the center of this bar is smaller spiral. And at the center of that spiral is a supermassive black hole.  This all happens in the big, beautiful, barred spiral galaxy cataloged as NGC 1300, a galaxy that lies some 70 million light-years away toward the constellation of the river Eridanus. This Hubble Space Telescope composite view of the gorgeous island universe is one of the most detailed Hubble images ever made of a complete galaxy. NGC 1300 spans over 100,000 light-years and the Hubble image reveals striking details of the galaxy's dominant central bar and majestic spiral arms. How the giant bar formed, how it remains, and how it affects star formation remains an active topic of research.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2022 October 6 - NGC 4631: The Whale Galaxy
Explanation: NGC 4631 is a big beautiful spiral galaxy. Seen edge-on, it lies only 25 million light-years away in the well-trained northern constellation Canes Venatici. The galaxy's slightly distorted wedge shape suggests to some a cosmic herring and to others its popular moniker, The Whale Galaxy. Either way, it is similar in size to our own Milky Way. In this sharp color image, the galaxy's yellowish core, dark dust clouds, bright blue star clusters, and red star forming regions are easy to spot. A companion galaxy, the small elliptical NGC 4627 is just above the Whale Galaxy. Faint star streams seen in deep images are the remnants of small companion galaxies disrupted by repeated encounters with the Whale in the distant past. The Whale Galaxy is also known to have spouted a halo of hot gas glowing in X-rays.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2022 August 24 - The Cartwheel Galaxy from Webb
Explanation: To some, it looks like a wheel of a cart. In fact, because of its outward appearance, the presence of a central galaxy, and its connection with what looks like the spokes of a wheel, the galaxy on the right is known as the Cartwheel Galaxy. To others, however, it looks like a complicated interaction between galaxies awaiting explanation. Along with the two galaxies on the left, the Cartwheel is part of a group of galaxies about 500 million light years away in the constellation Sculptor. The large galaxy's rim spans over 100,000 light years and is composed of star forming regions filled with extremely bright and massive stars. The Cartwheel's ring-like shape is the result of gravitational disruption caused by a smaller galaxy passing through a large one, compressing the interstellar gas and dust and causing a star formation wave to move out like a ripple across the surface of a pond. The featured recent image of the Cartwheel Galaxy by the Webb Space Telescope reveals new details not only about where stars are forming, but also about activity near the galaxy's central black hole.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2022 July 31 - Starburst Galaxy M94 from Hubble
Explanation: Why does this galaxy have a ring of bright blue stars? Beautiful island universe Messier 94 lies a mere 15 million light-years distant in the northern constellation of the Hunting Dogs (Canes Venatici). A popular target for Earth-based astronomers, the face-on spiral galaxy is about 30,000 light-years across, with spiral arms sweeping through the outskirts of its broad disk. But this Hubble Space Telescope field of view spans about 7,000 light-years across M94's central region. The featured close-up highlights the galaxy's compact, bright nucleus, prominent inner dust lanes, and the remarkable bluish ring of young massive stars. The ring stars are all likely less than 10 million years old, indicating that M94 is a starburst galaxy that is experiencing an epoch of rapid star formation from inspiraling gas. The circular ripple of blue stars is likely a wave propagating outward, having been triggered by the gravity and rotation of a oval matter distributions. Because M94 is relatively nearby, astronomers can better explore details of its starburst ring.

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 23 - Spiral Galaxy NGC 6744
Explanation: Beautiful spiral galaxy NGC 6744 is nearly 175,000 light-years across, larger than our own Milky Way. It lies some 30 million light-years distant in the southern constellation Pavo but appears as only a faint, extended object in small telescopes. We see the disk of the nearby island universe tilted towards our line of sight in this remarkably detailed galaxy portrait, a telescopic view that spans an area about the angular size of a full moon. In it, the giant galaxy's elongated yellowish core is dominated by the light from old, cool stars. Beyond the core, grand spiral arms are filled with young blue star clusters and speckled with pinkish star forming regions. An extended arm sweeps past smaller satellite galaxy NGC 6744A at the lower right. NGC 6744's galactic companion is reminiscent of the Milky Way's satellite galaxy the Large Magellanic Cloud.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2022 May 8 - Spiral Galaxy NGC 1512: The Inner Rings
Explanation: Most galaxies don't have any rings -- why does this galaxy have two? To begin, the bright band near NGC 1512's center is a nuclear ring, a ring that surrounds the galaxy center and glows brightly with recently formed stars. Most stars and accompanying gas and dust, however, orbit the galactic center in a ring much further out -- here seen near the image edge. This ring is called, counter-intuitively, the inner ring. If you look closely, you will see this the inner ring connects ends of a diffuse central bar that runs horizontally across the galaxy. These ring structures are thought to be caused by NGC 1512's own asymmetries in a drawn-out process called secular evolution. The gravity of these galaxy asymmetries, including the bar of stars, cause gas and dust to fall from the inner ring to the nuclear ring, enhancing this ring's rate of star formation. Some spiral galaxies also have a third ring -- an outer ring that circles the galaxy even further out.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2022 February 26 - Nearby Spiral Galaxy NGC 4945
Explanation: Large spiral galaxy NGC 4945 is seen nearly edge-on in this cosmic galaxy close-up. It's almost the size of our Milky Way Galaxy. NGC 4945's own dusty disk, young blue star clusters, and pink star forming regions stand out in the colorful telescopic frame. About 13 million light-years distant toward the expansive southern constellation Centaurus, NGC 4945 is only about six times farther away than Andromeda, the nearest large spiral galaxy to the Milky Way. Though this galaxy's central region is largely hidden from view for optical telescopes, X-ray and infrared observations indicate significant high energy emission and star formation in the core of NGC 4945. Its obscured but active nucleus qualifies the gorgeous island universe as a Seyfert galaxy and home to a central supermassive black hole.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2022 February 7 - NGC 4651: The Umbrella Galaxy
Explanation: It's raining stars. What appears to be a giant cosmic umbrella is now known to be a tidal stream of stars stripped from a small satellite galaxy. The main galaxy, spiral galaxy NGC 4651, is about the size of our Milky Way, while its stellar parasol appears to extend some 100 thousand light-years above this galaxy's bright disk. A small galaxy was likely torn apart by repeated encounters as it swept back and forth on eccentric orbits through NGC 4651. The remaining stars will surely fall back and become part of a combined larger galaxy over the next few million years. The featured image was captured by the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (CFHT) in Hawaii, USA. The Umbrella Galaxy lies about 50 million light-years distant toward the well-groomed northern constellation Coma Berenices.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2021 November 12 - M33: The Triangulum Galaxy
Explanation: The small, northern constellation Triangulum harbors this magnificent face-on spiral galaxy, M33. Its popular names include the Pinwheel Galaxy or just the Triangulum Galaxy. M33 is over 50,000 light-years in diameter, third largest in the Local Group of galaxies after the Andromeda Galaxy (M31), and our own Milky Way. About 3 million light-years from the Milky Way, M33 is itself thought to be a satellite of the Andromeda Galaxy and astronomers in these two galaxies would likely have spectacular views of each other's grand spiral star systems. As for the view from planet Earth, this sharp image shows off M33's blue star clusters and pinkish star forming regions along the galaxy's loosely wound spiral arms. In fact, the cavernous NGC 604 is the brightest star forming region, seen here at about the 4 o'clock position from the galaxy center. Like M31, M33's population of well-measured variable stars have helped make this nearby spiral a cosmic yardstick for establishing the distance scale of the Universe.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2021 November 6 - The Galaxy Between Two Friends
Explanation: On an August night two friends enjoyed this view after a day's hike on the Plateau d'Emparis in the French Alps. At 2400 meters altitude the sky was clear. Light from a setting moon illuminates the foreground captured in the simple vertical panorama of images. Along the plane of our Milky Way galaxy stars of Cassiopeia and Perseus shine along the panorama's left edge. But seen as a faint cloud with a brighter core, the Andromeda galaxy, stands directly above the two friends in the night. The nearest large spiral galaxy, Andromeda is about 2.5 million light-years beyond the stars of the Milky Way. Adding to the evening's shared extragalactic perspective, the fainter fuzzy spot in the sky right between them is M33, also known as the Triangulum galaxy. Third largest in the local galaxy group, after Andromeda and Milky Way, the Triangulum galaxy is about 3 million light-years distant. On that night, the two friends stood about 3 light-nanoseconds apart.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2021 July 28 - Ring Galaxy AM 0644 741
Explanation: The rim of the large blue galaxy at the right is an immense ring-like structure 150,000 light years in diameter composed of newly formed, extremely bright, massive stars. AM 0644-741 is known as a ring galaxy and was caused by an immense galaxy collision. When galaxies collide, they pass through each other and their individual stars rarely come into contact. The large galaxy's ring-like shape is the result of the gravitational disruption caused by a small intruder galaxy passing through it. When this happens, interstellar gas and dust become compressed, causing a wave of star formation to move out from the impact point like a ripple across the surface of a pond. Other galaxies in the field of view are background galaxies, not interacting with AM 0644-741. Foreground spiky stars are within our own Milky Way. But the smaller intruder galaxy is caught above and right, near the top of the frame taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. Ring galaxy AM 0644-741 lies about 300 million light years away toward the southern constellation Volans.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2021 July 18 - The Andromeda Galaxy in Ultraviolet
Explanation: What does the Andromeda galaxy look like in ultraviolet light? Young blue stars circling the galactic center dominate. A mere 2.5 million light-years away, the Andromeda Galaxy, also known as M31, really is just next door as large galaxies go. Spanning about 230,000 light-years, it took 11 different image fields from NASA's Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX) satellite telescope to produce this gorgeous portrait of the spiral galaxy in ultraviolet light in 2003. While its spiral arms stand out in visible light images, Andromeda's arms look more like rings in ultraviolet. The rings are sites of intense star formation and have been interpreted as evidence that Andromeda collided with its smaller neighboring elliptical galaxy M32 more than 200 million years ago. The Andromeda galaxy and our own comparable Milky Way galaxy are the most massive members of the Local Group of galaxies and are projected to collide in several billion years -- perhaps around the time that our Sun's atmosphere will expand to engulf the Earth.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2021 June 21 - The Tadpole Galaxy from Hubble
Explanation: Why does this galaxy have such a long tail? In this stunning vista, based on image data from the Hubble Legacy Archive, distant galaxies form a dramatic backdrop for disrupted spiral galaxy Arp 188, the Tadpole Galaxy. The cosmic tadpole is a mere 420 million light-years distant toward the northern constellation of the Dragon (Draco). Its eye-catching tail is about 280 thousand light-years long and features massive, bright blue star clusters. One story goes that a more compact intruder galaxy crossed in front of Arp 188 - from right to left in this view - and was slung around behind the Tadpole by their gravitational attraction. During the close encounter, tidal forces drew out the spiral galaxy's stars, gas, and dust forming the spectacular tail. The intruder galaxy itself, estimated to lie about 300 thousand light-years behind the Tadpole, can be seen through foreground spiral arms at the upper right. Following its terrestrial namesake, the Tadpole Galaxy will likely lose its tail as it grows older, the tail's star clusters forming smaller satellites of the large spiral galaxy.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2021 May 17 - NGC 4565: Galaxy on Edge
Explanation: Is our Milky Way Galaxy this thin? Magnificent spiral galaxy NGC 4565 is viewed edge-on from planet Earth. Also known as the Needle Galaxy for its narrow profile, bright NGC 4565 is a stop on many telescopic tours of the northern sky, in the faint but well-groomed constellation Coma Berenices. This sharp, colorful image reveals the spiral galaxy's boxy, bulging central core cut by obscuring dust lanes that lace NGC 4565's thin galactic plane. An assortment of other background galaxies is included in the pretty field of view. Thought similar in shape to our own Milky Way Galaxy, NGC 4565 lies about 40 million light-years distant and spans some 100,000 light-years. Easily spotted with small telescopes, sky enthusiasts consider NGC 4565 to be a prominent celestial masterpiece Messier missed.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2021 May 14 - M104: The Sombrero Galaxy
Explanation: A gorgeous spiral galaxy, M104 is famous for its nearly edge-on profile featuring a broad ring of obscuring dust lanes. Seen in silhouette against an extensive central bulge of stars, the swath of cosmic dust lends a broad brimmed hat-like appearance to the galaxy suggesting a more popular moniker, the Sombrero Galaxy. This sharp optical view of the well-known galaxy made from ground-based image data was processed to preserve details often lost in overwhelming glare of M104's bright central bulge. Also known as NGC 4594, the Sombrero galaxy can be seen across the spectrum, and is host to a central supermassive black hole. About 50,000 light-years across and 28 million light-years away, M104 is one of the largest galaxies at the southern edge of the Virgo Galaxy Cluster. Still the colorful spiky foreground stars in this field of view lie well within our own Milky Way galaxy.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2020 November 15 - Edge On Galaxy NGC 5866
Explanation: Why is this galaxy so thin? Many disk galaxies are just as thin as NGC 5866, pictured here, but are not seen edge-on from our vantage point. One galaxy that is situated edge-on is our own Milky Way Galaxy. Classified as a lenticular galaxy, NGC 5866 has numerous and complex dust lanes appearing dark and red, while many of the bright stars in the disk give it a more blue underlying hue. The blue disk of young stars can be seen extending past the dust in the extremely thin galactic plane, while the bulge in the disk center appears tinged more orange from the older and redder stars that likely exist there. Although similar in mass to our Milky Way Galaxy, light takes about 60,000 years to cross NGC 5866, about 30 percent less than light takes to cross our own Galaxy. In general, many disk galaxies are very thin because the gas that formed them collided with itself as it rotated about the gravitational center. Galaxy NGC 5866 lies about 44 million light years distant toward the constellation of the Dragon (Draco).

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2020 May 10 - The Porpoise Galaxy from Hubble
Explanation: What's happening to this spiral galaxy? Just a few hundred million years ago, NGC 2936, the upper of the two large galaxies shown, was likely a normal spiral galaxy -- spinning, creating stars -- and minding its own business. But then it got too close to the massive elliptical galaxy NGC 2937 below and took a dive. Dubbed the Porpoise Galaxy for its iconic shape, NGC 2936 is not only being deflected but also being distorted by the close gravitational interaction. A burst of young blue stars forms the nose of the porpoise toward the right of the upper galaxy, while the center of the spiral appears as an eye. Alternatively, the galaxy pair, together known as Arp 142, look to some like a penguin protecting an egg. Either way, intricate dark dust lanes and bright blue star streams trail the troubled galaxy to the lower right. The featured re-processed image showing Arp 142 in unprecedented detail was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope last year. Arp 142 lies about 300 million light years away toward the constellation, coincidently, of the Water Snake (Hydra). In a billion years or so the two galaxies will likely merge into one larger galaxy.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2020 February 19 - UGC 12591: The Fastest Rotating Galaxy Known
Explanation: Why does this galaxy spin so fast? To start, even identifying which type of galaxy UGC 12591 is difficult -- featured on the lower left, it has dark dust lanes like a spiral galaxy but a large diffuse bulge of stars like a lenticular. Surprisingly observations show that UGC 12591 spins at about 480 km/sec, almost twice as fast as our Milky Way, and the fastest rotation rate yet measured. The mass needed to hold together a galaxy spinning this fast is several times the mass of our Milky Way Galaxy. Progenitor scenarios for UGC 12591 include slow growth by accreting ambient matter, or rapid growth through a recent galaxy collision or collisions -- future observations may tell. The light we see today from UGC 12591 left about 400 million years ago, when trees were first developing on Earth.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2019 December 31 - M33: The Triangulum Galaxy
Explanation: The small, northern constellation Triangulum harbors this magnificent face-on spiral galaxy, M33. Its popular names include the Pinwheel Galaxy or just the Triangulum Galaxy. M33 is over 50,000 light-years in diameter, third largest in the Local Group of galaxies after the Andromeda Galaxy (M31), and our own Milky Way. About 3 million light-years from the Milky Way, M33 is itself thought to be a satellite of the Andromeda Galaxy and astronomers in these two galaxies would likely have spectacular views of each other's grand spiral star systems. As for the view from planet Earth, this sharp image shows off M33's blue star clusters and pinkish star forming regions along the galaxy's loosely wound spiral arms. In fact, the cavernous NGC 604 is the brightest star forming region, seen here at about the 7 o'clock position from the galaxy center. Like M31, M33's population of well-measured variable stars have helped make this nearby spiral a cosmic yardstick for establishing the distance scale of the Universe.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2019 December 5 - Spiral Galaxy NGC 6744
Explanation: Beautiful spiral galaxy NGC 6744 is nearly 175,000 light-years across, larger than our own Milky Way. It lies some 30 million light-years distant in the southern constellation Pavo and appears as only a faint, extended object in small telescopes. We see the disk of the nearby island universe tilted towards our line of sight in this remarkably detailed galaxy portrait, a telescopic view that spans an area about the angular size of a full moon. In it, the giant galaxy's elongated yellowish core is dominated by the light from old, cool stars. Beyond the core, grand spiral arms are filled with young blue star clusters and speckled with pinkish star forming regions. An extended arm sweeps past a smaller satellite galaxy (NGC 6744A) at the lower right. NGC 6744's galactic companion is reminiscent of the Milky Way's satellite galaxy the Large Magellanic Cloud.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2019 December 1 - Starburst Galaxy M94 from Hubble
Explanation: Why does this galaxy have a ring of bright blue stars? Beautiful island universe Messier 94 lies a mere 15 million light-years distant in the northern constellation of the Hunting Dogs (Canes Venatici). A popular target for Earth-based astronomers, the face-on spiral galaxy is about 30,000 light-years across, with spiral arms sweeping through the outskirts of its broad disk. But this Hubble Space Telescope field of view spans about 7,000 light-years across M94's central region. The featured close-up highlights the galaxy's compact, bright nucleus, prominent inner dust lanes, and the remarkable bluish ring of young massive stars. The ring stars are all likely less than 10 million years old, indicating that M94 is a starburst galaxy that is experiencing an epoch of rapid star formation from inspiraling gas. The circular ripple of blue stars is likely a wave propagating outward, having been triggered by the gravity and rotation of a oval matter distributions. Because M94 is relatively nearby, astronomers can better explore details of its starburst ring.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2019 September 9 - M31: The Andromeda Galaxy
Explanation: How far can you see? The most distant object easily visible to the unaided eye is M31, the great Andromeda Galaxy, over two million light-years away. Without a telescope, even this immense spiral galaxy appears as an unremarkable, faint, nebulous cloud in the constellation Andromeda. But a bright yellow nucleus, dark winding dust lanes, luminous blue spiral arms, and bright red emission nebulas are recorded in this stunning six-hour telescopic digital mosaic of our closest major galactic neighbor. While even casual skygazers are now inspired by the knowledge that there are many distant galaxies like M31, astronomers seriously debated this fundamental concept only 100 years ago. Were these "spiral nebulae" simply outlying gas clouds in our own Milky Way Galaxy or were they "island universes" -- distant galaxies of stars comparable to the Milky Way itself? This question was central to the famous Shapley-Curtis debate of 1920, which was later resolved by observations favoring Andromeda being just like our Milky Way Galaxy -- a conclusion making the rest of the universe much more vast than many had ever imagined.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2019 August 22 - Nearby Spiral Galaxy NGC 4945
Explanation: Large spiral galaxy NGC 4945 is seen edge-on near the center of this cosmic galaxy portrait. In fact, it's almost the size of our Milky Way Galaxy. NGC 4945's own dusty disk, young blue star clusters, and pink star forming regions standout in the sharp, colorful telescopic image. About 13 million light-years distant toward the expansive southern constellation Centaurus, NGC 4945 is only about six times farther away than Andromeda, the nearest large spiral galaxy to the Milky Way. Though this galaxy's central region is largely hidden from view for optical telescopes, X-ray and infrared observations indicate significant high energy emission and star formation in the core of NGC 4945. Its obscured but active nucleus qualifies the gorgeous island universe as a Seyfert galaxy and home to a central supermassive black hole.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2019 July 23 - M82: Galaxy with a Supergalactic Wind
Explanation: Why is the Cigar Galaxy billowing red smoke? M82, as this starburst galaxy is also known, was stirred up by a recent pass near large spiral galaxy M81. This doesn't fully explain the source of the red-glowing outwardly expanding gas and dust, however. Evidence indicates that this gas and dust is being driven out by the combined emerging particle winds of many stars, together creating a galactic superwind. The dust particles are thought to originate in M82's interstellar medium and are actually similar in size to particles in cigar smoke. The featured photographic mosaic highlights a specific color of red light strongly emitted by ionized hydrogen gas, showing detailed filaments of this gas and dust. The filaments extend for over 10,000 light years. The 12-million light-year distant Cigar Galaxy is the brightest galaxy in the sky in infrared light, and can be seen in visible light with a small telescope towards the constellation of the Great Bear (Ursa Major).

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2019 July 12 - Magellanic Galaxy NGC 55
Explanation: Irregular galaxy NGC 55 is thought to be similar to the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC). But while the LMC is about 180,000 light-years away and a well-known satellite of our own Milky Way Galaxy, NGC 55 is more like 6 million light-years distant, a member of the Sculptor Galaxy Group. Classified as an irregular galaxy, in deep exposures the LMC itself resembles a barred disk galaxy. Spanning about 50,000 light-years, NGC 55 is seen nearly edge-on though, presenting a flattened, narrow profile in contrast with our face-on view of the LMC. Just as large star forming regions create emission nebulae in the LMC, NGC 55 is also seen to be producing new stars. This highly detailed galaxy portrait highlights a bright core crossed with dust clouds, telltale pinkish star forming regions, and young blue star clusters in NGC 55.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2019 April 30 - Meteor Misses Galaxy
Explanation: The galaxy was never in danger. For one thing, the Triangulum galaxy (M33), pictured, is much bigger than the tiny grain of rock at the head of the meteor. For another, the galaxy is much farther away -- in this instance 3 million light years as opposed to only about 0.0003 light seconds. Even so, the meteor's path took it angularly below the galaxy. Also the wind high in Earth's atmosphere blew the meteor's glowing evaporative molecule train away from the galaxy, in angular projection. Still, the astrophotographer was quite lucky to capture both a meteor and a galaxy in a single exposure -- which was subsequently added to two other images of M33 to bring up the spiral galaxy's colors. At the end, the meteor was gone in a second, but the galaxy will last billions of years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2019 April 27 - The Galaxy, the Jet and the Black Hole
Explanation: Bright elliptical galaxy Messier 87 (M87) is home to the supermassive black hole captured by planet Earth's Event Horizon Telescope in the first ever image of a black hole. Giant of the Virgo galaxy cluster about 55 million light-years away, M87 is the large galaxy rendered in blue hues in this infrared image from the Spitzer Space telescope. Though M87 appears mostly featureless and cloud-like, the Spitzer image does record details of relativistic jets blasting from the galaxy's central region. Shown in the inset at top right, the jets themselves span thousands of light-years. The brighter jet seen on the right is approaching and close to our line of sight. Opposite, the shock created by the otherwise unseen receding jet lights up a fainter arc of material. Inset at bottom right, the historic black hole image is shown in context, at the center of giant galaxy and relativistic jets. Completely unresolved in the Spitzer image, the supermassive black hole surrounded by infalling material is the source of the enormous energy driving the relativistic jets from the center of active galaxy M87.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2019 March 29 - M104: The Sombrero Galaxy
Explanation: The striking spiral galaxy M104 is famous for its nearly edge-on profile featuring a broad ring of obscuring dust lanes. Seen in silhouette against an extensive central bulge of stars, the swath of cosmic dust lends a broad brimmed hat-like appearance to the galaxy suggesting a more popular moniker, The Sombrero Galaxy. Hubble Space Telescope data have been used to create this sharp view of the well-known galaxy. The processing results in a natural color appearance and preserves details often lost in overwhelming glare of M104's bright central bulge when viewed with smaller ground-based telescopes. Also known as NGC 4594, the Sombrero galaxy can be seen across the spectrum and is host to a central supermassive black hole. About 50,000 light-years across and 28 million light-years away, M104 is one of the largest galaxies at the southern edge of the Virgo Galaxy Cluster.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2019 March 25 - Arp 194: Merging Galaxy Group
Explanation: Why are stars forming in the bridge between these colliding galaxies? Usually when galaxies crash, star formation is confined to galaxy disks or tidal tails. In Arp 194, though, there are bright knots of young stars right in a connecting bridge. Analyses of images and data including the featured image of Arp 194 from Hubble, as well as computer simulations of the interaction, indicate that the bottom galaxy passed right through the top galaxy within the past 100 million years. The result has left a stream of gas that is now falling toward the bottom galaxy. Astronomers hypothesize that stars form in this bridge because of the recent fading of turbulence after the rapid collision. In about a billion years, the galaxies -- including a smaller galaxy superposed on the upper galaxy (see it?) -- will all merge into one larger galaxy.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2019 February 23 - The Stars of the Triangulum Galaxy
Explanation: Like grains of sand on a cosmic beach, stars of the Triangulum Galaxy are resolved in this sharp mosaic from the Hubble Space Telescope's Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS). The inner region of the galaxy spanning over 17,000 light-years is covered at extreme resolution, the second largest image ever released by Hubble. At its center is the bright, densely packed galactic core surrounded by a loose array of dark dust lanes mixed with the stars in the galactic plane. Also known as M33, the face-on spiral galaxy lies 3 million light-years away in the small northern constellation Triangulum. Over 50,000 light-years in diameter, the Triangulum Galaxy is the third largest in the Local Group of galaxies after the Andromeda Galaxy (M31), and our own Milky Way. Of course, to fully appreciate the Triangulum's stars, star clusters, and bright nebulae captured in this Hubble mosaic, you'll need to use a zoom tool.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2019 February 22 - NGC 4565: Galaxy on Edge
Explanation: Magnificent spiral galaxy NGC 4565 is viewed edge-on from planet Earth. Also known as the Needle Galaxy for its narrow profile, bright NGC 4565 is a stop on many telescopic tours of the northern sky, in the faint but well-groomed constellation Coma Berenices. This sharp, colorful image reveals the galaxy's boxy, bulging central core cut by obscuring dust lanes that lace NGC 4565's thin galactic plane. An assortment of other background galaxies is included in the pretty field of view, with neighboring galaxy NGC 4562 at the upper right. NGC 4565 itself lies about 40 million light-years distant and spans some 100,000 light-years. Easily spotted with small telescopes, sky enthusiasts consider NGC 4565 to be a prominent celestial masterpiece Messier missed.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2019 January 28 - The Long Gas Tail of Spiral Galaxy D100
Explanation: Why is there long red streak attached to this galaxy? The streak is made mostly of glowing hydrogen that has been systematically stripped away as the galaxy moved through the ambient hot gas in a cluster of galaxies. Specifically, the galaxy is spiral galaxy D100, and cluster is the Coma Cluster of galaxies. The red path connects to the center of D100 because the outer gas, gravitationally held less strongly, has already been stripped away by ram pressure. The extended gas tail is about 200,000 light-years long, contains about 400,000 times the mass of our Sun, and stars are forming within it. Galaxy D99, visible to D100's lower left, appears red because it glows primarily from the light of old red stars -- young blue stars can no longer form because D99 has been stripped of its star-forming gas. The featured false-color picture is a digitally enhanced composite of images from Earth-orbiting Hubble and the ground-based Subaru telescope. Studying remarkable systems like this bolsters our understanding of how galaxies evolve in clusters.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2019 January 1 - The Sombrero Galaxy in Infrared
Explanation: This floating ring is the size of a galaxy. In fact, it is a galaxy -- or at least part of one: the photogenic Sombrero Galaxy, one of the largest galaxies in the nearby Virgo Cluster of Galaxies. The dark band of dust that obscures the mid-section of the Sombrero Galaxy in optical light actually glows brightly in infrared light. The featured image, digitally sharpened, shows the infrared glow, recently recorded by the orbiting Spitzer Space Telescope, superposed in false-color on an existing image taken by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope in optical light. The Sombrero Galaxy, also known as M104, spans about 50,000 light years across and lies 28 million light years away. M104 can be seen with a small telescope in the direction of the constellation Virgo.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2018 December 17 - M31: The Andromeda Galaxy
Explanation: What is the nearest major galaxy to our own Milky Way Galaxy? Andromeda. In fact, our Galaxy is thought to look much like Andromeda. Together these two galaxies dominate the Local Group of galaxies. The diffuse light from Andromeda is caused by the hundreds of billions of stars that compose it. The several distinct stars that surround Andromeda's image are actually stars in our Galaxy that are well in front of the background object. Andromeda is frequently referred to as M31 since it is the 31st object on Messier's list of diffuse sky objects. M31 is so distant it takes about two million years for light to reach us from there. Although visible without aid, the featured image of M31 is a digital mosaic of 20 frames taken with a small telescope. Much about M31 remains unknown, including exactly how long it will be before it collides with our home galaxy.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2018 September 27 - M33: Triangulum Galaxy
Explanation: The small, northern constellation Triangulum harbors this magnificent face-on spiral galaxy, M33. Its popular names include the Pinwheel Galaxy or just the Triangulum Galaxy. M33 is over 50,000 light-years in diameter, third largest in the Local Group of galaxies after the Andromeda Galaxy (M31), and our own Milky Way. About 3 million light-years from the Milky Way, M33 is itself thought to be a satellite of the Andromeda Galaxy and astronomers in these two galaxies would likely have spectacular views of each other's grand spiral star systems. As for the view from planet Earth, this sharp image shows off M33's blue star clusters and pinkish star forming regions along the galaxy's loosely wound spiral arms. In fact, the cavernous NGC 604 is the brightest star forming region, seen here at about the 7 o'clock position from the galaxy center. Like M31, M33's population of well-measured variable stars have helped make this nearby spiral a cosmic yardstick for establishing the distance scale of the Universe.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2018 September 21 - Irregular Galaxy NGC 55
Explanation: Irregular galaxy NGC 55 is thought to be similar to the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC). But while the LMC is about 180,000 light-years away and is a well known satellite of our own Milky Way Galaxy, NGC 55 is more like 6 million light-years distant and is a member of the Sculptor Galaxy Group. Classified as an irregular galaxy, in deep exposures the LMC itself resembles a barred disk galaxy. Spanning about 50,000 light-years, NGC 55 is seen nearly edge-on though, presenting a flattened, narrow profile in contrast with our face-on view of the LMC. Just as large star forming regions create emission nebulae in the LMC, NGC 55 is also seen to be producing new stars. This highly detailed galaxy portrait highlights a bright core crossed with dust clouds, telltale pinkish star forming regions, and young blue star clusters in NGC 55.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2018 July 25 - The Edge-On Spindle Galaxy
Explanation: What kind of celestial object is this? A relatively normal galaxy -- but seen from its edge. Many disk galaxies are actually just as thin as NGC 5866, pictured here, but are not seen edge-on from our vantage point. A perhaps more familiar galaxy seen edge-on is our own Milky Way Galaxy. Cataloged as M102 and NGC 5866, the Spindle galaxy has numerous and complex dust lanes appearing dark and red, while many of the bright stars in the disk give it a more blue underlying hue. The blue disk of young stars can be seen extending past the dust in the extremely thin galactic plane. There is evidence that the Spindle galaxy has cannibalized smaller galaxies over the past billion years or so, including multiple streams of faint stars, dark dust that extends away from the main galactic plane, and a surrounding group of galaxies (not shown). In general, many disk galaxies become thin because the gas that forms them collides with itself as it rotates about the gravitational center. The Spindle galaxy lies about 50 million light years distant toward the constellation of the Dragon (Draco).

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2018 May 23 - Spiral Galaxy NGC 4038 in Collision
Explanation: This galaxy is having a bad millennium. In fact, the past 100 million years haven't been so good, and probably the next billion or so will be quite tumultuous. Visible toward the lower right, NGC 4038 used to be a normal spiral galaxy, minding its own business, until NGC 4039, to its upper left, crashed into it. The evolving wreckage, known famously as the Antennae, is featured here. As gravity restructures each galaxy, clouds of gas slam into each other, bright blue knots of stars form, massive stars form and explode, and brown filaments of dust are strewn about. Eventually the two galaxies will converge into one larger spiral galaxy. Such collisions are not unusual, and even our own Milky Way Galaxy has undergone several in the past and is predicted to collide with our neighboring Andromeda Galaxy in a few billion years. The frames that compose this image were taken by the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope by professional astronomers to better understand galaxy collisions. These frames -- and many other deep space images from Hubble -- have since been made public, allowing interested amateurs to download and process them into, for example, this visually stunning composite.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2018 January 23 - Ribbons and Pearls of Spiral Galaxy NGC 1398
Explanation: Why do some spiral galaxies have a ring around the center? Spiral galaxy NGC 1398 not only has a ring of pearly stars, gas and dust around its center, but a bar of stars and gas across its center, and spiral arms that appear like ribbons farther out. The featured image was taken with ESO's Very Large Telescope at the Paranal Observatory in Chile and resolves this grand spiral in impressive detail. NGC 1398 lies about 65 million light years distant, meaning the light we see today left this galaxy when dinosaurs were disappearing from the Earth. The photogenic galaxy is visible with a small telescope toward the constellation of the Furnace (Fornax). The ring near the center is likely an expanding density wave of star formation, caused either by a gravitational encounter with another galaxy, or by the galaxy's own gravitational asymmetries.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2017 November 30 - M33: Triangulum Galaxy
Explanation: The small, northern constellation Triangulum harbors this magnificent face-on spiral galaxy, M33. Its popular names include the Pinwheel Galaxy or just the Triangulum Galaxy. M33 is over 50,000 light-years in diameter, third largest in the Local Group of galaxies after the Andromeda Galaxy (M31), and our own Milky Way. About 3 million light-years from the Milky Way, M33 is itself thought to be a satellite of the Andromeda Galaxy and astronomers in these two galaxies would likely have spectacular views of each other's grand spiral star systems. As for the view from planet Earth, this sharp composite image nicely shows off M33's blue star clusters and pinkish star forming regions along the galaxy's loosely wound spiral arms. In fact, the cavernous NGC 604 is the brightest star forming region, seen here at about the 7 o'clock position from the galaxy center. Like M31, M33's population of well-measured variable stars have helped make this nearby spiral a cosmic yardstick for establishing the distance scale of the Universe.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2017 August 7 - Spiral Galaxy NGC 1512: The Inner Ring
Explanation: Most galaxies don't have any rings -- why does this galaxy have two? To begin, the bright band near NGC 1512's center is a nuclear ring, a ring that surrounds the galaxy center and glows brightly with recently formed stars. Most stars and accompanying gas and dust, however, orbit the galactic center in a ring much further out -- here seen near the image edge. This ring is called, counter-intuitively, the inner ring. If you look closely, you will see this the inner ring connects ends of a diffuse central bar that runs horizontally across the galaxy. These ring structures are thought to be caused by NGC 1512's own asymmetries in a drawn-out process called secular evolution. The gravity of these galaxy asymmetries, including the bar of stars, cause gas and dust to fall from the inner ring to the nuclear ring, enhancing this ring's rate of star formation. Some spiral galaxies also have a third ring -- an outer ring that circles the galaxy even further out.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2017 May 26 - Spiral Galaxy NGC 6744
Explanation: Big, beautiful spiral galaxy NGC 6744 is nearly 175,000 light-years across, larger than our own Milky Way. It lies some 30 million light-years distant in the southern constellation Pavo appearing as a faint, extended object in small telescopes. We see the disk of the nearby island universe tilted towards our line of sight. This remarkably distinct and detailed galaxy portrait covers an area about the angular size of the full moon. In it, the giant galaxy's yellowish core is dominated by the light from old, cool stars. Beyond the core, spiral arms filled with young blue star clusters and pinkish star forming regions sweep past a smaller satellite galaxy at the lower left, reminiscent of the Milky Way's satellite galaxy the Large Magellanic Cloud.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2017 May 24 - NGC 4565: Galaxy on Edge
Explanation: Is our Galaxy this thin? We believe so. Magnificent spiral galaxy NGC 4565 is viewed edge-on from planet Earth. Also known as the Needle Galaxy for its narrow profile, bright NGC 4565 is a stop on many telescopic tours of the northern sky, in the faint but well-groomed constellation Coma Berenices. This sharp, colorful image reveals the galaxy's bulging central core cut by obscuring dust lanes that lace NGC 4565's thin galactic plane. An assortment of other background galaxies is included in the pretty field of view, with neighboring galaxy NGC 4562 at the upper left. NGC 4565 itself lies about 40 million light-years distant and spans some 100,000 light-years. Easily spotted with small telescopes, sky enthusiasts consider NGC 4565 to be a prominent celestial masterpiece Messier missed.

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 April 5 - Filaments of Active Galaxy NGC 1275
Explanation: What keeps these filaments attached to this galaxy? The filaments persist in NGC 1275 even though the turmoil of galactic collisions should destroy them. First, active galaxy NGC 1275 is the central, dominant member of the large and relatively nearby Perseus Cluster of Galaxies. Wild-looking at visible wavelengths, the active galaxy is also a prodigious source of x-rays and radio emission. NGC 1275 accretes matter as entire galaxies fall into it, ultimately feeding a supermassive black hole at the galaxy's core. This composite image, recreated from archival Hubble Space Telescope data, highlights the resulting galactic debris and filaments of glowing gas, some up to 20,000 light-years long. Observations indicate that the structures, pushed out from the galaxy's center by the black hole's activity, are held together by magnetic fields. Also known as Perseus A, NGC 1275 spans over 100,000 light years and lies about 230 million light years away.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2017 March 7 - UGC 12591: The Fastest Rotating Galaxy Known
Explanation: Why does this galaxy spin so fast? To start, even identifying which type of galaxy UGC 12591 is difficult -- it has dark dust lanes like a spiral galaxy but a large diffuse bulge of stars like a lenticular. Surprisingly observations show that UGC 12591 spins at about 480 km/sec, almost twice as fast as our Milky Way, and the fastest rotation rate yet measured. The mass needed to hold together a galaxy spinning this fast is several times the mass of our Milky Way Galaxy. Progenitor scenarios for UGC 12591 include slow growth by accreting ambient matter, or rapid growth through a recent galaxy collision or collisions -- future observations may tell. The light we see today from UGC 12591 left about 400 million years ago, when trees were first developing on Earth.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2017 February 17 - Polar Ring Galaxy NGC 660
Explanation: NGC 660 is featured in this cosmic snapshot. Over 40 million light-years away and swimming within the boundaries of the constellation Pisces, NGC 660's peculiar appearance marks it as a polar ring galaxy. A rare galaxy type, polar ring galaxies have a substantial population of stars, gas, and dust orbiting in rings strongly tilted from the plane of the galactic disk. The bizarre-looking configuration could have been caused by the chance capture of material from a passing galaxy by a disk galaxy, with the captured debris eventually strung out in a rotating ring. The violent gravitational interaction would account for the myriad pinkish star forming regions scattered along NGC 660's ring. The polar ring component can also be used to explore the shape of the galaxy's otherwise unseen dark matter halo by calculating the dark matter's gravitational influence on the rotation of the ring and disk. Broader than the disk, NGC 660's ring spans over 50,000 light-years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2017 February 6 - The Porpoise Galaxy from Hubble
Explanation: What's happening to this spiral galaxy? Just a few hundred million years ago, NGC 2936, the upper of the two large galaxies shown, was likely a normal spiral galaxy -- spinning, creating stars -- and minding its own business. But then it got too close to the massive elliptical galaxy NGC 2937 below and took a dive. Dubbed the Porpoise Galaxy for its iconic shape, NGC 2936 is not only being deflected but also being distorted by the close gravitational interaction. A burst of young blue stars forms the nose of the porpoise toward the right of the upper galaxy, while the center of the spiral appears as an eye. Alternatively, the galaxy pair, together known as Arp 142, look to some like a penguin protecting an egg. Either way, intricate dark dust lanes and bright blue star streams trail the troubled galaxy to the lower right. The featured re-processed image showing Arp 142 in unprecedented detail was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope last year. Arp 142 lies about 300 million light years away toward the constellation, coincidently, of the Water Snake (Hydra). In a billion years or so the two galaxies will likely merge into one larger galaxy.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2016 December 27 - M31: The Andromeda Galaxy
Explanation: What is the nearest major galaxy to our own Milky Way Galaxy? Andromeda. In fact, our Galaxy is thought to look much like Andromeda. Together these two galaxies dominate the Local Group of galaxies. The diffuse light from Andromeda is caused by the hundreds of billions of stars that compose it. The several distinct stars that surround Andromeda's image are actually stars in our Galaxy that are well in front of the background object. Andromeda is frequently referred to as M31 since it is the 31st object on Messier's list of diffuse sky objects. M31 is so distant it takes about two million years for light to reach us from there. Although visible without aid, the featured image of M31 is a digital mosaic of several frames taken with a small telescope. Much about M31 remains unknown, including exactly how many billions of years it will before it collides with our home galaxy.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2016 December 18 - The Cartwheel Galaxy from Hubble
Explanation: To some, it looks like the wheel of a cart. In fact, because of its outward oval appearance, the presence of a central galaxy, and their connection with what looks like the spokes of a wheel, the galaxy on the right is known as the Cartwheel Galaxy. To others, however, it looks like a complicated interaction between galaxies awaiting explanation. Along with the two galaxies on the left, the Cartwheel is part of a group of galaxies about 400 million light years away in the constellation Sculptor. The large galaxy's rim spans over 100,000 light years and is composed of star forming regions filled with extremely bright and massive stars. Pictured, the Cartwheel's ring-like shape is the result of gravitational disruption caused by a smaller galaxy passing through a large one, compressing the interstellar gas and dust and causing a star formation wave to move out like a ripple across the surface of a pond.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2016 September 17 - M33: Triangulum Galaxy
Explanation: The small, northern constellation Triangulum harbors this magnificent face-on spiral galaxy, M33. Its popular names include the Pinwheel Galaxy or just the Triangulum Galaxy. M33 is over 50,000 light-years in diameter, third largest in the Local Group of galaxies after the Andromeda Galaxy (M31), and our own Milky Way. About 3 million light-years from the Milky Way, M33 is itself thought to be a satellite of the Andromeda Galaxy and astronomers in these two galaxies would likely have spectacular views of each other's grand spiral star systems. As for the view from planet Earth, this sharp composite image nicely shows off M33's blue star clusters and pinkish star forming regions along the galaxy's loosely wound spiral arms. In fact, the cavernous NGC 604 is the brightest star forming region, seen here at about the 1 o'clock position from the galaxy center. Like M31, M33's population of well-measured variable stars have helped make this nearby spiral a cosmic yardstick for establishing the distance scale of the Universe.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2016 June 3 - NGC 4631: The Whale Galaxy
Explanation: NGC 4631 is a big beautiful spiral galaxy. Seen edge-on, it lies only 25 million light-years away in the well-trained northern constellation Canes Venatici. The galaxy's slightly distorted wedge shape suggests to some a cosmic herring and to others its popular moniker, The Whale Galaxy. Either way, it is similar in size to our own Milky Way. In this sharp color image, the galaxy's yellowish core, dark dust clouds, bright blue star clusters, and red star forming regions are easy to spot. A companion galaxy, the small elliptical NGC 4627 is just above the Whale Galaxy. Faint star streams seen in deep images are the remnants of small companion galaxies disrupted by repeated encounters with the Whale in the distant past. The Whale Galaxy is also known to have spouted a halo of hot gas glowing in X-rays.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2016 April 20 - Galaxy Einstein Ring
Explanation: Can one galaxy hide behind another? Not in the case of SDP.81. Here the foreground galaxy, shown in blue in an image taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, acts like a huge gravitational lens, pulling light from a background galaxy, shown in red in an image taken in radio waves by the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA), around it, keeping it visible. The alignment is so precise that the distant galaxy is distorted into part of a ring around the foreground galaxy, a formation known as an Einstein ring. Detailed analysis of the gravitational lens distortions indicate that a small dark satellite galaxy participates in the deflections, bolstering indication that many satellite galaxies are quite dim and dominated by dark matter. That small galaxy is depicted by a small white dot on the left. Although spanning only a few arcseconds, the featured Einstein ring is really tens of thousands of light years across.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2016 March 9 - Edge On Galaxy NGC 5866
Explanation: Why is this galaxy so thin? Many disk galaxies are actually just as thin as NGC 5866, pictured above, but are not seen edge-on from our vantage point. One galaxy that is situated edge-on is our own Milky Way Galaxy. Classified as a lenticular galaxy, NGC 5866 has numerous and complex dust lanes appearing dark and red, while many of the bright stars in the disk give it a more blue underlying hue. The blue disk of young stars can be seen extending past the dust in the extremely thin galactic plane, while the bulge in the disk center appears tinged more orange from the older and redder stars that likely exist there. Although similar in mass to our Milky Way Galaxy, light takes about 60,000 years to cross NGC 5866, about 30 percent less than light takes to cross our own Galaxy. In general, many disk galaxies are very thin because the gas that formed them collided with itself as it rotated about the gravitational center. Galaxy NGC 5866 lies about 50 million light years distant toward the constellation of the Dragon (Draco).

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2016 March 1 - NGC 3310: A Starburst Spiral Galaxy
Explanation: The party is still going on in spiral galaxy NGC 3310. Roughly 100 million years ago, NGC 3310 likely collided with a smaller galaxy causing the large spiral galaxy to light up with a tremendous burst of star formation. The changing gravity during the collision created density waves that compressed existing clouds of gas and triggered the star-forming party. The featured image from the Gemini North Telescope shows the galaxy in great detail, color-coded so that pink highlights gas while white and blue highlight stars. Some of the star clusters in the galaxy are quite young, indicating that starburst galaxies may remain in star-burst mode for quite some time. NGC 3310 spans about 50,000 light years, lies about 50 million light years away, and is visible with a small telescope towards the constellation of Ursa Major.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2016 February 21 - M82: Galaxy with a Supergalactic Wind
Explanation: What's lighting up the Cigar Galaxy? M82, as this irregular galaxy is also known, was stirred up by a recent pass near large spiral galaxy M81. This doesn't fully explain the source of the red-glowing outwardly expanding gas, however. Evidence indicates that this gas is being driven out by the combined emerging particle winds of many stars, together creating a galactic superwind. The featured photographic mosaic highlights a specific color of red light strongly emitted by ionized hydrogen gas, showing detailed filaments of this gas. The filaments extend for over 10,000 light years. The 12-million light-year distant Cigar Galaxy is the brightest galaxy in the sky in infrared light, and can be seen in visible light with a small telescope towards the constellation of the Great Bear (Ursa Major).

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2016 February 3 - Galaxy Wars: M81 versus M82
Explanation: In the lower left corner, surrounded by blue spiral arms, is spiral galaxy M81. In the upper right corner, marked by red gas and dust clouds, is irregular galaxy M82. This stunning vista shows these two mammoth galaxies locked in gravitational combat, as they have been for the past billion years. The gravity from each galaxy dramatically affects the other during each hundred million-year pass. Last go-round, M82's gravity likely raised density waves rippling around M81, resulting in the richness of M81's spiral arms. But M81 left M82 with violent star forming regions and colliding gas clouds so energetic the galaxy glows in X-rays. This big battle is seen from Earth through the faint glow of an Integrated Flux Nebula, a little studied complex of diffuse gas and dust clouds in our Milky Way Galaxy. In a few billion years only one galaxy will remain.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 December 19 - Star Streams and the Whale Galaxy
Explanation: NGC 4631 is a spiral galaxy found only 25 million light-years away, toward the well-trained northern constellation Canes Venatici. Seen egde-on, the galaxy is similar in size to the Milky Way. Its distorted wedge shape suggests to some a cosmic herring and to others its popular moniker, The Whale Galaxy. The large galaxy's small, remarkably bright elliptical companion NGC 4627 lies just above its dusty yellowish core, but also identifiable are recently discovered, faint dwarf galaxies within the halo of NGC 4631. In fact, the faint extended features below (and above) NGC 4631 are now recognized as tidal star streams. The star streams are remnants of a dwarf satellite galaxy disrupted by repeated encounters with the Whale that began about 3.5 billion years ago. Even in nearby galaxies, the presence of tidal star streams is predicted by cosmological models of galaxy formation, including the formation of our own Milky Way.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 October 23 - Starburst Galaxy Messier 94
Explanation: Beautiful island universe Messier 94 lies a mere 15 million light-years distant in the northern constellation of the hunting dogs, Canes Venatici. A popular target for earth-based astronomers, the face-on spiral galaxy is about 30,000 light-years across, with spiral arms sweeping through the outskirts of its broad disk. But this Hubble Space Telescope field of view spans about 7,000 light-years or so across M94's central region. The sharp close-up examines the galaxy's compact, bright nucleus and prominent inner dust lanes, surrounded by a remarkable bluish ring of young, massive stars. The massive stars in the ring are all likely less than 10 million years old, indicating the galaxy experienced a well-defined era of rapid star formation. As a result, while the small, bright nucleus is typical of the Seyfert class of active galaxies, M94 is also known as a starburst galaxy. Because M94 is relatively nearby, astronomers can explore in detail reasons for the galaxy's burst of star formation.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 October 4 - The Sombrero Galaxy in Infrared
Explanation: This floating ring is the size of a galaxy. In fact, it is a galaxy -- or at least part of one: the photogenic Sombrero Galaxy, one of the largest galaxies in the nearby Virgo Cluster of Galaxies. The dark band of dust that obscures the mid-section of the Sombrero Galaxy in optical light actually glows brightly in infrared light. The above image, digitally sharpened, shows the infrared glow, recently recorded by the orbiting Spitzer Space Telescope, superposed in false-color on an existing image taken by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope in optical light. The Sombrero Galaxy, also known as M104, spans about 50,000 light years across and lies 28 million light years away. M104 can be seen with a small telescope in the direction of the constellation Virgo.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 August 30 - M31: The Andromeda Galaxy
Explanation: What is the nearest major galaxy to our own Milky Way Galaxy? Andromeda. In fact, our Galaxy is thought to look much like Andromeda. Together these two galaxies dominate the Local Group of galaxies. The diffuse light from Andromeda is caused by the hundreds of billions of stars that compose it. The several distinct stars that surround Andromeda's image are actually stars in our Galaxy that are well in front of the background object. Andromeda is frequently referred to as M31 since it is the 31st object on Messier's list of diffuse sky objects. M31 is so distant it takes about two million years for light to reach us from there. Although visible without aid, the above image of M31 is a digital mosaic of 20 frames taken with a small telescope. Much about M31 remains unknown, including exactly how long it will before it collides with our home galaxy.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 June 18 - M64: The Black Eye Galaxy
Explanation: This big, bright, beautiful spiral galaxy is Messier 64, often called the Black Eye Galaxy or the Sleeping Beauty Galaxy for its heavy-lidded appearance in telescopic views. M64 is about 17 million light-years distant in the otherwise well-groomed northern constellation Coma Berenices. In fact, the Red Eye Galaxy might also be an appropriate moniker in this colorful composition. The enormous dust clouds obscuring the near-side of M64's central region are laced with the telltale reddish glow of hydrogen associated with star forming regions. But they are not this galaxy's only peculiar feature. Observations show that M64 is actually composed of two concentric, counter-rotating systems. While all the stars in M64 rotate in the same direction as the interstellar gas in the galaxy's central region, gas in the outer regions, extending to about 40,000 light-years, rotates in the opposite direction. The dusty eye and bizarre rotation are likely the result of a billion year old merger of two different galaxies.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 June 9 - Galaxy NGC 7714 After Collision
Explanation: Is this galaxy jumping through a giant ring of stars? Probably not. Although the precise dynamics behind the featured image is yet unclear, what is clear is that the pictured galaxy, NGC 7714, has been stretched and distorted by a recent collision with a neighboring galaxy. This smaller neighbor, NGC 7715, situated off to the left of the featured frame, is thought to have charged right through NGC 7714. Observations indicate that the golden ring pictured is composed of millions of older Sun-like stars that are likely co-moving with the interior bluer stars. In contrast, the bright center of NGC 7714 appears to be undergoing a burst of new star formation. NGC 7714 is located about 100 million light years away toward the constellation of the Fish (Pisces). The interactions between these galaxies likely started about 150 million years ago and should continue for several hundred million years more, after which a single central galaxy may result.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 May 28 - Nearby Spiral Galaxy NGC 4945
Explanation: Large spiral galaxy NGC 4945 is seen edge-on near the center of this cosmic galaxy portrait. In fact, NGC 4945 is almost the size of our own Milky Way Galaxy. Its own dusty disk, young blue star clusters, and pink star forming regions standout in the sharp, colorful telescopic image. About 13 million light-years distant toward the expansive southern constellation Centaurus, NGC 4945 is only about six times farther away than Andromeda, the nearest large spiral galaxy to the Milky Way. Though the galaxy's central region is largely hidden from view for optical telescopes, X-ray and infrared observations indicate significant high energy emission and star formation in the core of NGC 4945. Its obscured but active nucleus qualifies the gorgeous island universe as a Seyfert galaxy and home to a central supermassive black hole.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 April 19 - Ring Galaxy AM 0644 741 from Hubble
Explanation: How could a galaxy become shaped like a ring? The rim of the blue galaxy pictured on the right is an immense ring-like structure 150,000 light years in diameter composed of newly formed, extremely bright, massive stars. That galaxy, AM 0644-741, is known as a ring galaxy and was caused by an immense galaxy collision. When galaxies collide, they pass through each other -- their individual stars rarely come into contact. The ring-like shape is the result of the gravitational disruption caused by an entire small intruder galaxy passing through a large one. When this happens, interstellar gas and dust become condensed, causing a wave of star formation to move out from the impact point like a ripple across the surface of a pond. The intruder galaxy is just outside of the frame taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. This featured image was taken to commemorate the anniversary of Hubble's launch in 1990. Ring galaxy AM 0644-741 lies about 300 million light years away.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 April 16 - One-Armed Spiral Galaxy NGC 4725
Explanation: While most spiral galaxies, including our own Milky Way, have two or more spiral arms, NGC 4725 has only one. In this sharp color composite image, the solo spira mirabilis seems to wind from a prominent ring of bluish, newborn star clusters and red tinted star forming regions. The odd galaxy also sports obscuring dust lanes a yellowish central bar structure composed of an older population of stars. NGC 4725 is over 100 thousand light-years across and lies 41 million light-years away in the well-groomed constellation Coma Berenices. Computer simulations of the formation of single spiral arms suggest that they can be either leading or trailing arms with respect to a galaxy's overall rotation. Also included in the frame, sporting a noticably more traditional spiral galaxy look, is a more distant background galaxy.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 February 5 - M104: The Sombrero Galaxy
Explanation: The striking spiral galaxy M104 is famous for its nearly edge-on profile featuring a broad ring of obscuring dust lanes. Seen in silhouette against an extensive bulge of stars, the swath of cosmic dust lends a broad brimmed hat-like appearance to the galaxy suggesting the more popular moniker, The Sombrero Galaxy. Hubble Space Telescope and ground-based Subaru data have been reprocessed with amateur color image data to create this sharp view of the well-known galaxy. The processing results in a natural color appearance and preserves details often lost in overwhelming glare of M104's bright central bulge when viewed with smaller ground-based instruments. Also known as NGC 4594, the Sombrero galaxy can be seen across the spectrum and is thought to host a central supermassive black hole. About 50,000 light-years across and 28 million light-years away, M104 is one of the largest galaxies at the southern edge of the Virgo Galaxy Cluster.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2014 November 8 - Polar Ring Galaxy NGC 660
Explanation: NGC 660 is featured in this cosmic snapshot, a sharp composite of broad and narrow band filter image data from the Gemini North telescope on Mauna Kea. Over 20 million light-years away and swimming within the boundaries of the constellation Pisces, NGC 660's peculiar appearance marks it as a polar ring galaxy. A rare galaxy type, polar ring galaxies have a substantial population of stars, gas, and dust orbiting in rings nearly perpendicular to the plane of the galactic disk. The bizarre-looking configuration could have been caused by the chance capture of material from a passing galaxy by a disk galaxy, with the captured debris eventually strung out in a rotating ring. The violent gravitational interaction would account for the myriad pinkish star forming regions scattered along NGC 660's ring. The polar ring component can also be used to explore the shape of the galaxy's otherwise unseen dark matter halo by calculating the dark matter's gravitational influence on the rotation of the ring and disk. Broader than the disk, NGC 660's ring spans over 50,000 light-years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2014 November 5 - NGC 4762: A Galaxy on the Edge
Explanation: Why is there a bright line on the sky? What is pictured above is actually a disk galaxy being seen almost perfectly edge on. The image from the Hubble Space Telescope is a spectacular visual reminder of just how thin disk galaxies can be. NGC 4762, a galaxy in the nearby Virgo Cluster of Galaxies, is so thin that it is actually difficult to determine what type of disk galaxy it is. Its lack of a visible dust lane indicates that it is a low-dust lenticular galaxy, although it is still possible that a view from on top would reveal spiral structure. The unusual stellar line spans about 100,000 light years from end to end. Near NGC 4762's center is a slight bulge of stars, while many background galaxies are visible far in the distance. Galaxies that appear this thin are rare mostly because our Earth must reside (nearly) in the extrapolated planes of their thin galactic disks. Galaxies that actually are this thin are relatively common -- for example our own Milky Way Galaxy is thought to be about this thin.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2014 August 8 - Spiral Galaxy NGC 6744
Explanation: Big, beautiful spiral galaxy NGC 6744 is nearly 175,000 light-years across, larger than our own Milky Way. It lies some 30 million light-years distant in the southern constellation Pavo. We see the disk of the nearby island universe tilted towards our line of sight. Orientation and composition give a strong sense of depth to this colorful galaxy portrait that covers an area about the angular size of the full moon. This giant galaxy's yellowish core is dominated by the light from old, cool stars. Beyond the core, spiral arms filled with young blue star clusters and pinkish star forming regions sweep past a smaller satellite galaxy at the lower left, reminiscent of the Milky Way's satellite galaxy the Large Magellanic Cloud.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2014 July 2 - NGC 4651: The Umbrella Galaxy
Explanation: Spiral galaxy NGC 4651 is a mere 62 million light-years distant, toward the well-groomed northern constellation Coma Berenices. About the size of our Milky Way, this island universe is seen to have a faint umbrella-shaped structure that seems to extend (left) some 100 thousand light-years beyond the bright galactic disk. The giant cosmic umbrella is now known to be composed of tidal star streams - extensive trails of stars gravitationally stripped from a smaller satellite galaxy. The small galaxy was eventually torn apart in repeated encounters as it swept back and forth on eccentric orbits through NGC 4651. In fact, the picture insert zooms in on the smaller galaxy's remnant core, identified in an extensive exploration of the system, using data from the large Subaru and Keck telescopes on Mauna Kea. Work begun by a remarkable collaboration of amateur and professional astronomers to image faint structures around bright galaxies suggests that even in nearby galaxies, tidal star streams are common markers of such galactic mergers. The result is explained by models of galaxy formation that also apply to our own Milky Way.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2014 June 30 - Peculiar Elliptical Galaxy Centaurus A
Explanation: What's happened to the center of this galaxy? Unusual and dramatic dust lanes run across the center of elliptical galaxy Centaurus A. These dust lanes are so thick they almost completely obscure the galaxy's center in visible light. This is particularly unusual as Cen A's red stars and round shape are characteristic of a giant elliptical galaxy, a galaxy type usually low in dark dust. Cen A, also known as NGC 5128, is also unusual compared to an average elliptical galaxy because it contains a higher proportion of young blue stars and is a very strong source of radio emission. Evidence indicates that Cen A is likely the result of the collision of two normal galaxies. During the collision, many young stars were formed, but details of the creation of Cen A's unusual dust belts are still being researched. Cen A lies only 13 million light years away, making it the closest active galaxy. Cen A, pictured above, spans 60,000 light years and can be seen with binoculars toward the constellation of Centaurus.

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 14 - Polar Ring Galaxy NGC 2685
Explanation: NGC 2685 is a confirmed polar ring galaxy - a rare type of galaxy with stars, gas and dust orbiting in rings perpendicular to the plane of a flat galactic disk. The bizarre configuration could be caused by the chance capture of material from another galaxy by a disk galaxy, with the captured debris strung out in a rotating ring. Still, observed properties of NGC 2685 suggest that the rotating ring structure is remarkably old and stable. In this sharp view of the peculiar system also known as Arp 336 or the Helix galaxy, the strange, perpendicular rings are easy to trace as they pass in front of the galactic disk, along with other disturbed outer structures. NGC 2685 is about 50,000 light-years across and 40 million light-years away in the constellation Ursa Major.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2014 March 13 - Messier 63: The Sunflower Galaxy
Explanation: A bright spiral galaxy of the northern sky, Messier 63 is about 25 million light-years distant in the loyal constellation Canes Venatici. Also cataloged as NGC 5055, the majestic island universe is nearly 100,000 light-years across. That's about the size of our own Milky Way Galaxy. Known by the popular moniker, The Sunflower Galaxy, M63 sports a bright yellowish core in this sharp, colorful galaxy portrait. Its sweeping blue spiral arms are streaked with cosmic dust lanes and dotted with pink star forming regions. A dominant member of a known galaxy group, M63 has faint, extended features that could be the result of gravitational interactions with nearby galaxies. In fact, M63 shines across the electromagnetic spectrum and is thought to have undergone bursts of intense star formation.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 October 4 - The Densest Galaxy
Explanation: The bright core and outer reaches of giant elliptical galaxy M60 (NGC 4649) loom large at the upper left of this sharp close-up from the Hubble Space Telescope. Some 54 million light-years away and 120,000 light-years across, M60 is one of the largest galaxies in the nearby Virgo Cluster. In cosmic contrast, the small, round smudge at picture center is now recognized as an ultra-compact dwarf galaxy. Cataloged as M60-UCD1, it may well be the densest galaxy in the nearby universe. Concentrating half of its total mass of 200 million suns into a radius of only 80 light-years, stars in the inner regions of M60-UCD1 are on average 25 times closer together than in planet Earth's neighborhood of the Milky Way. Exploring the nature of M60-UCD1, astronomers are trying to determine if ultra-compact dwarf galaxies are the central remnants of larger galaxies that have been tidally stripped by gravitatonal encounters, or evolved as massive globular star clusters. Recently discovered, a bright X-ray source seen at its center could be due to a supermassive black hole. If so, that would favor a remnant galaxy origin for M60-UCD1.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 July 28 - Hoag's Object: A Strange Ring Galaxy
Explanation: Is this one galaxy or two? This question came to light in 1950 when astronomer Art Hoag chanced upon this unusual extragalactic object. On the outside is a ring dominated by bright blue stars, while near the center lies a ball of much redder stars that are likely much older. Between the two is a gap that appears almost completely dark. How Hoag's Object formed remains unknown, although similar objects have now been identified and collectively labeled as a form of ring galaxy. Genesis hypotheses include a galaxy collision billions of years ago and the gravitational effect of a central bar that has since vanished. The above photo taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in July 2001 revealed unprecedented details of Hoag's Object. More recent observations in radio waves indicate that Hoag's Object has not accreted a smaller galaxy in the past billion years. Hoag's Object spans about 100,000 light years and lies about 600 million light years away toward the constellation of the Snake (Serpens). Coincidentally, visible in the gap (at about one o'clock) is yet another ring galaxy that likely lies far in the distance.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 July 4 - M82: Starburst Galaxy with a Superwind
Explanation: Also known as the Cigar Galaxy for its elongated visual appearance, M82 is a starburst galaxy with a superwind. In fact, through ensuing supernova explosions and powerful winds from massive stars, the burst of star formation in M82 is driving a prodigious outflow. Evidence for the superwind from the galaxy's central regions is clear in this sharp telescopic snapshot. The composite image highlights emission from long outflow filaments of atomic hydrogen gas in reddish hues. Some of the gas in the superwind, enriched in heavy elements forged in the massive stars, will eventually escape into intergalactic space. Including narrow band image data in the deep exposure has revealed a faint feature dubbed the cap. Perched about 35,000 light-years above the galaxy at the upper left, the cap appears to be galactic halo material. The material has been ionized by the superwind shock or intense ultraviolet radiation from the young, massive stars in the galaxy's core. Triggered by a close encounter with nearby large galaxy M81, the furious burst of star formation in M82 should last about 100 million years or so. M82 is 12 million light-years distant, near the northern boundary of Ursa Major.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 June 24 - The Porpoise Galaxy from Hubble
Explanation: What's happening to this spiral galaxy? Just a few hundred million years ago, NGC 2936, the upper of the two large galaxies shown, was likely a normal spiral galaxy -- spinning, creating stars -- and minding its own business. But then it got too close to the massive elliptical galaxy NGC 2937 below and took a dive. Dubbed the Porpoise Galaxy for its iconic shape, NGC 2936 is not only being deflected but also being distorted by the close gravitational interaction. A burst of young blue stars forms the nose of the porpoise toward the left of the upper galaxy, while the center of the spiral appears as an eye. Alternatively, the galaxy pair, together known as Arp 142, look to some like a penguin protecting an egg. Either way, intricate dark dust lanes and bright blue star streams trail the troubled galaxy to the lower right. The above recently-released image showing Arp 142 in unprecedented detail was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope last year. Arp 142 lies about 300 million light years away toward the constellation, coincidently, of the Water Snake (Hydra). In a billion years or so the two galaxies will likely merge into one larger galaxy.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 May 14 - Galaxy Collisions: Simulation vs Observations
Explanation: What happens when two galaxies collide? Although it may take over a billion years, such titanic clashes are quite common. Since galaxies are mostly empty space, no internal stars are likely to themselves collide. Rather the gravitation of each galaxy will distort or destroy the other galaxy, and the galaxies may eventually merge to form a single larger galaxy. Expansive gas and dust clouds collide and trigger waves of star formation that complete even during the interaction process. Pictured above is a computer simulation of two large spiral galaxies colliding, interspersed with real still images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. Our own Milky Way Galaxy has absorbed several smaller galaxies during its existence and is even projected to merge with the larger neighboring Andromeda galaxy in a few billion years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 April 16 - Grand Spiral Galaxy M81 and Arp's Loop
Explanation: One of the brightest galaxies in planet Earth's sky is similar in size to our Milky Way Galaxy: big, beautiful M81. This grand spiral galaxy lies 11.8 million light-years away toward the northern constellation of the Great Bear (Ursa Major). The deep image of the region reveals details in the bright yellow core, but at the same time follows fainter features along the galaxy's gorgeous blue spiral arms and sweeping dust lanes. It also follows the expansive, arcing feature, known as Arp's loop, that seems to rise from the galaxy's disk at the upper right. Studied in the 1960s, Arp's loop has been thought to be a tidal tail, material pulled out of M81 by gravitational interaction with its large neighboring galaxy M82. But a subsequent investigation demonstrates that at least some of Arp's loop likely lies within our own galaxy. The loop's colors in visible and infrared light match the colors of pervasive clouds of dust, relatively unexplored galactic cirrus only a few hundred light-years above the plane of the Milky Way. Along with the Milky Way's stars, the dust clouds lie in the foreground of this remarkable view. M81's dwarf companion galaxy, Holmberg IX, can be seen just above the large spiral. On the sky, this image spans about 0.5 degrees, about the size of the Full Moon.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 April 4 - M64: The Black Eye Galaxy
Explanation: This beautiful, bright, spiral galaxy is Messier 64, often called the Black Eye Galaxy or the Sleeping Beauty Galaxy for its heavy-lidded appearance in telescopic views. M64 is about 17 million light-years distant in the otherwise well-groomed northern constellation Coma Berenices. In fact, the Red Eye Galaxy might also be an appropriate moniker in this colorful composition of narrow and wideband images. The enormous dust clouds obscuring the near-side of M64's central region are laced with the telltale reddish glow of hydrogen associated with star forming regions. But they are not this galaxy's only peculiar feature. Observations show that M64 is actually composed of two concentric, counter-rotating systems. While all the stars in M64 rotate in the same direction as the interstellar gas in the galaxy's central region, gas in the outer regions, extending to about 40,000 light-years, rotates in the opposite direction. The dusty eye and bizarre rotation is likely the result of a billion year old merger of two different galaxies.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 January 23 - Nearby Spiral Galaxy NGC 4945
Explanation: Large spiral galaxy NGC 4945 is seen edge-on near the center of this cosmic galaxy portrait. In fact, NGC 4945 is almost the size of our own Milky Way Galaxy. Its own dusty disk, young blue star clusters, and pink star forming regions standout in the sharp, colorful telescopic image. About 13 million light-years distant toward the expansive southern constellation Centaurus, NGC 4945 is only about six times farther away than Andromeda, the nearest large spiral galaxy to the Milky Way. Though the galaxy's central region is largely hidden from view for optical telescopes, X-ray and infrared observations indicate significant high energy emission and star formation in the core of NGC 4945. Its obscured but active nucleus qualifies the gorgeous island universe as a Seyfert galaxy and likely home to a central supermassive black hole.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 December 20 - M33: Triangulum Galaxy
Explanation: The small, northern constellation Triangulum harbors this magnificent face-on spiral galaxy, M33. Its popular names include the Pinwheel Galaxy or just the Triangulum Galaxy. M33 is over 50,000 light-years in diameter, third largest in the Local Group of galaxies after the Andromeda Galaxy (M31), and our own Milky Way. About 3 million light-years from the Milky Way, M33 is itself thought to be a satellite of the Andromeda Galaxy and astronomers in these two galaxies would likely have spectacular views of each other's grand spiral star systems. As for the view from planet Earth, this sharp composite image, a 25 panel mosaic, nicely shows off M33's blue star clusters and pinkish star forming regions that trace the galaxy's loosely wound spiral arms. In fact, the cavernous NGC 604 is the brightest star forming region, seen here at about the 1 o'clock position from the galaxy center. Like M31, M33's population of well-measured variable stars have helped make this nearby spiral a cosmic yardstick for establishing the distance scale of the Universe.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 November 10 - Polar Ring Galaxy NGC 660
Explanation: NGC 660 is featured in this cosmic snapshot, a sharp composite of broad and narrow band filter image data from the Gemini North telescope on Mauna Kea. Over 20 million light-years away and swimming within the boundaries of the constellation Pisces, NGC 660's peculiar appearance marks it as a polar ring galaxy. A rare galaxy type, polar ring galaxies have a substantial population of stars, gas, and dust orbiting in rings nearly perpendicular to the plane of the galactic disk. The bizarre-looking configuration could have been caused by the chance capture of material from a passing galaxy by a disk galaxy, with the captured debris eventually strung out in a rotating ring. The violent gravitational interaction would account for the myriad pinkish star forming regions scattered along NGC 660's ring. The polar ring component can also be used to explore the shape of the galaxy's otherwise unseen dark matter halo by calculating the dark matter's gravitational influence on the rotation of the ring and disk. Broader than the disk, NGC 660's ring spans over 50,000 light-years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 August 12 - Spiral Galaxy NGC 4038 in Collision
Explanation: This galaxy is having a bad millennium. In fact, the past 100 million years haven't been so good, and probably the next billion or so will be quite tumultuous. Visible on the upper left, NGC 4038 used to be a normal spiral galaxy, minding its own business, until NGC 4039, toward its right, crashed into it. The evolving wreckage, known famously as the Antennae, is pictured above. As gravity restructures each galaxy, clouds of gas slam into each other, bright blue knots of stars form, massive stars form and explode, and brown filaments of dust are strewn about. Eventually the two galaxies will converge into one larger spiral galaxy. Such collisions are not unusual, and even our own Milky Way Galaxy has undergone several in the past and is predicted to collide with our neighboring Andromeda Galaxy in a few billion years. The frames that compose this image were taken by the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope by professional astronomers to better understand galaxy collisions. These frames -- and many other deep space images from Hubble -- have since been made public, allowing an interested amateur to download and process them into this visually stunning composite.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 July 17 - Simulation: A Disk Galaxy Forms
Explanation: How do galaxies like our Milky Way form? Since our universe moves too slowly to watch, faster-moving computer simulations are created to help find out. Green depicts (mostly) hydrogen gas in the above movie, while time is shown in billions of years since the Big Bang on the lower right. Pervasive dark matter is present but not shown. As the simulation begins, ambient gas falls into and accumulates in regions of relatively high gravity. Soon numerous proto-galaxies form, spin, and begin to merge. After about four billion years, a well-defined center materializes that dominates a region about 100,000 light-years across and starts looking like a modern disk galaxy. After a few billion more years, however, this early galaxy collides with another, all while streams of gas from other mergers rain down on this strange and fascinating cosmic dance. As the simulation reaches half the current age of the universe, a single larger disk develops. Even so, gas blobs -- some representing small satellite galaxies -- fall into and become absorbed by the rotating galaxy as the present epoch is reached and the movie ends. For our Milky Way Galaxy, however, big mergers may not be over -- recent evidence indicates that our large spiral disk Galaxy will collide and coalesce with the slightly larger Andromeda spiral disk galaxy in the next few billion years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 July 5 - NGC 4565: Galaxy on Edge
Explanation: Magnificent spiral galaxy NGC 4565 is viewed edge-on from planet Earth. Also known as the Needle Galaxy for its narrow profile, bright NGC 4565 is a stop on many telescopic tours of the northern sky, in the faint but well-groomed constellation Coma Berenices. This sharp, colorful image reveals the galaxy's bulging central core cut by obscuring dust lanes that lace NGC 4565's thin galactic plane. An assortment of other background galaxies is included in the pretty field of view, with neighboring galaxy NGC 4562 at the upper left. NGC 4565 itself lies about 40 million light-years distant and spans some 100,000 light-years. Easily spotted with small telescopes, sky enthusiasts consider NGC 4565 to be a prominent celestial masterpiece Messier missed.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 June 2 - M51: The Whirlpool Galaxy
Explanation: Follow the handle of the Big Dipper away from the dipper's bowl until you get to the handle's last bright star. Then, just slide your telescope a little south and west and you might find this stunning pair of interacting galaxies, the 51st entry in Charles Messier famous catalog. Perhaps the original spiral nebula, the large galaxy with well defined spiral structure is also cataloged as NGC 5194. Its spiral arms and dust lanes clearly sweep in front of its companion galaxy (top), NGC 5195. The pair are about 31 million light-years distant and officially lie within the angular boundaries of the small constellation Canes Venatici. Though M51 looks faint and fuzzy to the human eye, deep images like this one can reveal the faint tidal debris around the smaller galaxy.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 May 18 - GALEX: The Andromeda Galaxy
Explanation: A mere 2.5 million light-years away, the Andromeda Galaxy really is just next door as large galaxies go. So close, and spanning some 260,000 light-years, it took 11 different image fields from the Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX) satellite's telescope to produce this gorgeous portrait of the spiral galaxy in ultraviolet light. While its spiral arms stand out in visible light images of Andromeda (also known as M31), the arms look more like rings in the GALEX ultraviolet view, dominated by hot, young, massive stars. As sites of intense star formation, the rings have been interpreted as evidence Andromeda collided with its smaller neighboring elliptical galaxy M32 more than 200 million years ago. The large Andromeda galaxy and our own Milky Way are the dominant members of the local galaxy group.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 March 26 - M82: Galaxy with a Supergalactic Wind
Explanation: What's lighting up the Cigar Galaxy? M82, as this irregular galaxy is also known, was stirred up by a recent pass near large spiral galaxy M81. This doesn't fully explain the source of the red-glowing outwardly expanding gas, however. Recent evidence indicates that this gas is being driven out by the combined emerging particle winds of many stars, together creating a galactic superwind.. The above photographic mosaic highlights a specific color of red light strongly emitted by ionized hydrogen gas, showing detailed filaments of this gas. The filaments extend for over 10,000 light years. The 12-million light-year distant Cigar Galaxy is the brightest galaxy in the sky in infrared light, and can be seen in visible light with a small telescope towards the constellation of the Great Bear (Ursa Major).

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 March 13 - The M81 Galaxy Group Through the Integrated Flux Nebula
Explanation: Large galaxies and faint nebulae highlight this deep image of the M81 Group of galaxies. First and foremost in the wide-angle 12-hour exposure is the grand design spiral galaxy M81, the largest galaxy visible in the image. M81 is gravitationally interacting with M82 just below it, a big galaxy with an unusual halo of filamentary red-glowing gas. Around the image many other galaxies from the M81 Group of galaxies can be seen, as well as a lucky satellite glint streaking across the image left. Together with other galaxy congregates including our Local Group of galaxies and the Virgo Cluster of galaxies, the M81 Group is part of the expansive Virgo Supercluster of Galaxies. This whole galaxy menagerie is seen through the faint glow of an Integrated Flux Nebula, a little studied complex of diffuse gas and dust clouds in our Milky Way Galaxy.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 March 11 - The Sombrero Galaxy in Infrared
Explanation: This floating ring is the size of a galaxy. In fact, it is part of the photogenic Sombrero Galaxy, one of the largest galaxies in the nearby Virgo Cluster of Galaxies. The dark band of dust that obscures the mid-section of the Sombrero Galaxy in optical light actually glows brightly in infrared light. The above image, digitally sharpened, shows the infrared glow, recently recorded by the orbiting Spitzer Space Telescope, superposed in false-color on an existing image taken by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope in optical light. The Sombrero Galaxy, also known as M104, spans about 50,000 light years across and lies 28 million light years away. M104 can be seen with a small telescope in the direction of the constellation Virgo.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 January 10 - Bright Star Regulus near the Leo I Dwarf Galaxy
Explanation: The star near the top is so bright that it is sometimes hard to notice the galaxy toward the bottom. Pictured above, both the star, Regulus, and the galaxy, Leo I, can be found within one degree of each other toward the constellation of the Lion (Leo). Regulus is part of a multiple star system, with a close companion double star visible to the lower left of the young main sequence star. Leo I is a dwarf spheroidal galaxy in the Local Group of galaxies dominated by our Milky Way Galaxy and M31. Leo I is thought to be the most distant of the several known small satellite galaxies orbiting our Milky Way Galaxy. Regulus is located about 75 light years away, in contrast to Leo 1 which is located about 800,000 light years away.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2011 December 23 - Shell Galaxy NGC 7600
Explanation: Similar in size to the Milky Way, elliptical galaxy NGC 7600 is about 160 million light-years distant. In this deep image, spanning about 1/2 degree on the sky toward the constellation Aquarius, NGC 7600 sports a remarkable outer halo of nested shells and broad circumgalactic structures. The tantalizing features can be explained by the accretion of dark matter and stars on a cosmic timescale. In fact, a movie generated by simulating galaxy formation using a cosmological model with cold dark matter for the halos of merging galaxies reproduces the appearance of NGC 7600 in amazing detail. The remarkable simulation movie is available here on Vimeo and here in other formats. It presents compelling evidence that detailed features of galaxy mergers observed with small, wide field telescopes on planet Earth, are natural consequences of galaxy formation and fundamental properties of dark matter.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2011 October 15 - NGC 4565: Galaxy on Edge
Explanation: Magnificent spiral galaxy NGC 4565 is viewed edge-on from planet Earth. Also known as the Needle Galaxy for its narrow profile, bright NGC 4565 is a stop on many telescopic tours of the northern sky, in the faint but well-groomed constellation Coma Berenices. This sharp, colorful image reveals the galaxy's bulging central core cut by obscuring dust lanes that lace NGC 4565's thin galactic plane. An assortment of other background galaxies is included in the pretty field of view, with neighboring galaxy NGC 4562 at the lower right. NGC 4565 itself lies about 40 million light-years distant and spans some 100,000 light-years. Easily spotted with small telescopes, sky enthusiasts consider NGC 4565 to be a prominent celestial masterpiece Messier missed.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2011 July 26 - Galaxy NGC 474: Cosmic Blender
Explanation: What's happening to galaxy NGC 474? The multiple layers of emission appear strangely complex and unexpected given the relatively featureless appearance of the elliptical galaxy in less deep images. The cause of the shells is currently unknown, but possibly tidal tails related to debris left over from absorbing numerous small galaxies in the past billion years. Alternatively the shells may be like ripples in a pond, where the ongoing collision with the spiral galaxy just above NGC 474 is causing density waves to ripple though the galactic giant. Regardless of the actual cause, the above image dramatically highlights the increasing consensus that at least some elliptical galaxies have formed in the recent past, and that the outer halos of most large galaxies are not really smooth but have complexities induced by frequent interactions with -- and accretions of -- smaller nearby galaxies. The halo of our own Milky Way Galaxy is one example of such unexpected complexity. NGC 474 spans about 250,000 light years and lies about 100 million light years distant toward the constellation of the Fish (Pisces).

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2011 April 3 - Giant Galaxy NGC 6872
Explanation: Over 400,000 light years across NGC 6872 is an enormous spiral galaxy, at least 4 times the size of our own very large Milky Way. About 200 million light-years distant, toward the southern constellation Pavo, the Peacock, the remarkable galaxy's stretched out shape is due to its ongoing gravitational interaction, likely leading to an eventual merger, with the nearby smaller galaxy IC 4970. IC 4970 is seen just below and right of the giant galaxy's core in this cosmic color portrait from the 8 meter Gemini South telescope in Chile. The idea to image this titanic galaxy collision comes from a winning contest essay submitted last year to the Gemini Observatory by the Sydney Girls High School Astronomy Club. In addition to inspirational aspects and aesthetics, club members argued that a color image would be more than just a pretty picture. In their winning essay they noted that "If enough colour data is obtained in the image it may reveal easily accessible information about the different populations of stars, star formation, relative rate of star formation due to the interaction, and the extent of dust and gas present in these galaxies". (Editor's note: For Australian schools, 2011 contest information is here.)

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2011 January 22 - Polar Ring Galaxy NGC 660
Explanation: NGC 660 lies near the center of this intriguing skyscape, swimming in the boundaries of the constellation Pisces. Over 20 million light-years away, its peculiar appearance marks it as a polar ring galaxy. A rare galaxy type, polar ring galaxies have a substantial population of stars, gas, and dust orbiting in rings nearly perpendicular to the plane of the galactic disk. The bizarre configuration could have been caused by the chance capture of material from a passing galaxy by the disk galaxy, with the captured debris strung out in a rotating ring. The polar ring component can be used to explore the shape of the galaxy's otherwise unseen dark matter halo by calculating the dark matter's gravitational influence on the rotation of the ring and disk. Broader than the disk, NGC 660's ring spans about 40,000 light-years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2011 January 18 - Kona Galaxy Garden
Explanation: How does your galaxy grow? Quite contrary to a typical galaxy, this one needs water to flourish. Pictured above as it appears at the Paleaku Peace Gardens Sanctuary in Kona, Hawaii, USA, a meticulously planned garden spanning about 30 meters provides a relatively accurate map of our Milky Way Galaxy. Different plants depict stars, globular clusters, and even nebulas. Many bright stars visible in Earth's night sky are depicted on leaves surrounding the marked location of the Sun. Plant rows were placed to represent arms of our Galaxy, including the Sun's Orion Arm, the impressive Sagittarius Arm, and the little discussed Norma Arm. A small bar runs through our Galaxy's center, while a fountain has been built to represent the central black hole. What a stellar use of space!

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2011 January 1 - Fireworks Galaxy NGC 6946
Explanation: Celebrate the New Year with the Fireworks Galaxy! Also known as NGC 6946, the big, beautiful spiral galaxy is located just 10 million light-years away, behind a veil of foreground dust and stars in the high and far-off constellation of Cepheus. From our vantage point in the Milky Way Galaxy, we see NGC 6946 face-on. In this colorful cosmic portrait, the galaxy's colors change from the yellowish light of old stars in the core to young blue star clusters and reddish star forming regions along the loose, fragmented spiral arms. NGC 6946 is bright in infrared light and rich in gas and dust, exhibiting a furious rate of star formation. Nearly 40,000 light-years across, the nearby spiral is fittingly referred to as the Fireworks Galaxy. Over the last 100 years, at least nine supernovae, the death explosions of massive stars, were discovered in NGC 6946. By comparison, the average rate for supernovae in the Milky Way is about 1 per century.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 December 19 - M82: Galaxy with a Supergalactic Wind
Explanation: What's lighting up the Cigar Galaxy? M82, as this irregular galaxy is also known, was stirred up by a recent pass near large spiral galaxy M81. This doesn't fully explain the source of the red-glowing outwardly expanding gas, however. Recent evidence indicates that this gas is being driven out by the combined emerging particle winds of many stars, together creating a galactic superwind.. The above photographic mosaic highlights a specific color of red light strongly emitted by ionized hydrogen gas, showing detailed filaments of this gas. The filaments extend for over 10,000 light years. The 12-million light-year distant Cigar Galaxy is the brightest galaxy in the sky in infrared light, and can be seen in visible light with a small telescope towards the constellation of the Great Bear (Ursa Major).

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 December 3 - M33: Triangulum Galaxy
Explanation: The small, northern constellation Triangulum harbors this magnificent face-on spiral galaxy, M33. Its popular names include the Pinwheel Galaxy or just the Triangulum Galaxy. M33 is over 50,000 light-years in diameter, third largest in the Local Group of galaxies after the Andromeda Galaxy (M31), and our own Milky Way. About 3 million light-years from the Milky Way, M33 is itself thought to be a satellite of the Andromeda Galaxy and astronomers in these two galaxies would likely have spectacular views of each other's grand spiral star systems. As for the view from planet Earth, this sharp, detailed image nicely shows off M33's blue star clusters and pinkish star forming regions that trace the galaxy's loosely wound spiral arms. In fact, the cavernous NGC 604 is the brightest star forming region, seen here at about the 4 o'clock position from the galaxy center. Like M31, M33's population of well-measured variable stars have helped make this nearby spiral a cosmic yardstick for establishing the distance scale of the Universe.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 November 9 - NGC 4452: An Extremely Thin Galaxy
Explanation: Why is there a line segment on the sky? In one of the more precise alignments known in the universe, what is pictured above is actually a disk galaxy being seen almost perfectly edge on. The image from the Hubble Space Telescope is a spectacular visual reminder of just how thin disk galaxies can be. NGC 4452, a galaxy in the nearby Virgo Cluster of Galaxies, is so thin that it is actually difficult to determine what type of disk galaxy it is. Its lack of a visible dust lane indicates that it is a low-dust lenticular galaxy, although it is still possible that a view from on top would reveal spiral structure. The unusual stellar line segment spans about 35,000 light years from end to end. Near NGC 4452's center is a slight bulge of stars, while hundreds of background galaxies are visible far in the distance. Galaxies that appear this thin are rare mostly because our Earth must reside (nearly) in the extrapolated planes of their thin galactic disks. Galaxies that actually are this thin are relatively common -- for example our own Milky Way Galaxy is thought to be about this thin.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 August 22 - Hoags Object: A Strange Ring Galaxy
Explanation: Is this one galaxy or two? This question came to light in 1950 when astronomer Art Hoag chanced upon this unusual extragalactic object. On the outside is a ring dominated by bright blue stars, while near the center lies a ball of much redder stars that are likely much older. Between the two is a gap that appears almost completely dark. How Hoag's Object formed remains unknown, although similar objects have now been identified and collectively labeled as a form of ring galaxy. Genesis hypotheses include a galaxy collision billions of years ago and the gravitational effect of a central bar that has since vanished. The above photo taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in July 2001 reveals unprecedented details of Hoag's Object and may yield a better understanding. Hoag's Object spans about 100,000 light years and lies about 600 million light years away toward the constellation of the Snake (Serpens). Coincidentally, visible in the gap (at about one o'clock) is yet another ring galaxy that likely lies far in the distance.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 May 17 - Panorama of the Whale Galaxy
Explanation: The see the full length of this blue whale, scroll right. NGC 4631 is a big beautiful spiral galaxy seen edge-on at only about 30 million light-years away. This galaxy's slightly distorted wedge shape led to its popular moniker of the Whale galaxy. The Whale's dark interstellar dust clouds and young bright blue star clusters highlight this panoramic color image. The band of NGC 4631 not only appears similar to band of our own Milky Way Galaxy, but its size is truly similar to our Milky Way as well. The galaxy is also known to have spouted a halo of hot gas glowing in x-rays. The Whale galaxy spans about 140,000 light years and can be seen with a small telescope toward the constellation of the Hunting Dogs (Canes Venatici).

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: 2010 April 24 - NGC 1055: Galaxy in a Box
Explanation: Big, beautiful spiral galaxy NGC 1055 is a dominant member of a small galaxy group a mere 60 million light-years away toward the intimidating constellation Cetus. Seen edge-on, the island universe spans about 100,000 light-years, similar in size to our own Milky Way. Colorful, spiky stars in this cosmic portrait of NGC 1055 are in the foreground, well within the Milky Way. But along with a smattering of more distant background galaxies, the deep image also reveals a curious box-shaped inner halo extending far above and below this galaxy's dusty plane. The halo itself is laced with faint, narrow structures, and could represent the mixed and spread out debris from a satellite galaxy disrupted by the larger spiral some 10 billion years ago.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 April 15 - NGC 4651: The Umbrella Galaxy
Explanation: Spiral galaxy NGC 4651 is a mere 35 million light-years distant, toward the well-groomed constellation Coma Berenices. About 50 thousand light-years across, this galaxy is seen to have a faint umbrella-shaped structure (right) that seems to extend some 50 thousand light-years farther, beyond the bright galactic disk. The giant cosmic umbrella is now known to be composed of tidal star streams. The streams themselves are extensive trails of stars gravitationally stripped from a smaller satellite galaxy that was eventually torn apart. Placing your cursor over the image will superimpose a simulation of the satellite galaxy's path as it was disrupted and absorbed into NGC 4651. Recent work by a remarkable collaboration of amateur and professional astronomers to image faint structures around bright galaxies suggests that even in nearby galaxies, such tidal star streams are common. The result is predicted by models of galaxy formation, including the formation of our Milky Way.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 April 13 - Unusual Spiral Galaxy M66 from Hubble
Explanation: Why isn't spiral galaxy M66 symmetric? Usually density waves of gas, dust, and newly formed stars circle a spiral galaxy's center and create a nearly symmetric galaxy. The differences between M66's spiral arms and the apparent displacement of its nucleus are all likely caused by previous close interactions and the tidal gravitational pulls of nearby galaxy neighbors M65 and NGC 3628. Spiral galaxy M66, pictured above, spans about 100,000 light years, lies about 35 million light years distant, and is the largest galaxy in a group known as the Leo Triplet. Like many spiral galaxies, the long and intricate dust lanes of M66 are seen intertwined with the bright stars and nebulas that light up the spiral arms.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 March 30 - Unusual Starburst Galaxy NGC 1313
Explanation: Why is this galaxy so discombobulated? Usually, galaxies this topsy-turvy result from a recent collision with a neighboring galaxy. Spiral galaxy NGC 1313, however, appears to be alone. Brightly lit with new and blue massive stars, star formation appears so rampant in NGC 1313 that it has been labeled a starburst galaxy. Strange features of NGC 1313 include that its spiral arms are lopsided and its rotational axis is not at the center of the nuclear bar. Pictured above, NGC 1313 spans about 50,000 light years and lies only about 15 million light years away toward the constellation of the Reticle (Reticulum). Continued numerical modeling of galaxies like NGC 1313 might shed some light on its unusual nature.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 March 4 - NGC 4565: Galaxy on Edge
Explanation: Magnificent spiral galaxy NGC 4565 is viewed edge-on from planet Earth. Also known as the Needle Galaxy for its narrow profile, bright NGC 4565 is a stop on many telescopic tours of the northern sky, in the faint but well-groomed constellation Coma Berenices. This sharp, colorful image reveals the galaxy's bulging central core cut by obscuring dust lanes that lace NGC 4565's thin galactic plane. An assortment of other galaxies is included in the pretty field of view. Neighboring galaxy NGC 4562 is at the upper right. NGC 4565 itself lies about 40 million light-years distant, spanning some 100,000 light-years. Easily spotted with small telescopes, sky enthusiasts consider NGC 4565 to be a prominent celestial masterpiece Messier missed.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2009 December 3 - Polar Ring Galaxy NGC 660
Explanation: NGC 660 lies near the center of this intriguing field of galaxies swimming within the boundaries of the constellation Pisces. Over 20 million light-years away, its peculiar appearance marks it as a polar ring galaxy. A rare galaxy type, polar ring galaxies have a substantial population of stars, gas, and dust orbiting in rings nearly perpendicular to the plane of a flat galactic disk. The bizarre configuration could have been caused by the chance capture of material from a passing galaxy by the disk galaxy, with the captured debris strung out in a rotating ring. Polar Ring galaxies can be used to explore the shape of the galaxy's otherwise unseen dark matter halo by calculating the dark matter's gravitational influence on the rotation of the ring and disk. Broader than the disk, NGC 660's ring spans about 40,000 light-years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2009 August 29 - NGC 7771 Galaxy Group
Explanation: Slide your cursor over the image to identify three members of this intriguing gathering of galaxies. Known as the NGC 7771 Group, they lie almost 200 million light-years away toward the high flying constellation Pegasus. The largest galaxy, barred spiral NGC 7771, is itself about 75,000 light-years across, but will someday find itself part of a larger galaxy still. As the galaxies of the group make repeated close passages, they will finally merge into one very large galaxy. Played out over hundreds of millions of years, the process is understood to be a normal part of the evolution of galaxies, including our own Milky Way.

Editor's Note: The labeled version of the image was generated by Astrometry.net.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2009 August 12 - Irregular Galaxy NGC 55
Explanation: Irregular galaxy NGC 55 is thought to be similar to the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC). But while the LMC is about 180,000 light-years away and is a well known satellite of our own Milky Way Galaxy, NGC 55 is more like 6 million light-years distant and is a member of the Sculptor Galaxy Group. Classified as an irregular galaxy, in deep exposures the LMC itself resembles a barred disk galaxy. However, spanning about 50,000 light-years, NGC 55 is seen nearly edge-on, presenting a flattened, narrow profile in contrast with our face-on view of the LMC. Just as large star forming regions create emission nebulae in the LMC, NGC 55 is also seen to be producing new stars. This highly detailed galaxy portrait highlights a bright core crossed with dust clouds, telltale pinkish star forming regions, and young blue star clusters in NGC 55.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2009 July 27 - NGC 1097: Spiral Galaxy with a Central Eye
Explanation: What's happening at the center of spiral galaxy NGC 1097? No one is sure, but it likely involves a supermassive black hole. Matter falling in from a bar of stars and gas across the center is likely being heated by an extremely energetic region surrounding the central black hole. From afar, the entire central region appears in the above false-color infrared image as a mysterious eye. Near the left edge and seen in blue, a smaller companion galaxy is wrapped in the spectacular spiral arms of the large spiral, lit in pink by glowing dust. Currently about 40 thousand light-years from the larger galaxy's center, the gravity of the companion galaxy appears to be reshaping the larger galaxy as it is slowly being destroyed itself. NGC 1097 is located about 50 million light years away toward the constellation of the furnace (Fornax).

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2009 July 17 - Starburst Galaxy M94
Explanation: Beautiful island universe M94 lies a mere 15 million light-years distant in the northern constellation of the hunting dogs, Canes Venatici. A popular target for earth-based astronomers, the face-on spiral galaxy is about 30,000 light-years across. Its remarkable features include prominent dust lanes, a bright, point-like nucleus, and a bright, bluish ring dominated by the light of young, massive stars. The massive stars in the ring are all likely less than 10 million years old, indicating the galaxy experienced a well-defined era of rapid star formation. As a result, while the small, bright nucleus is typical of the Seyfert class of active galaxies, M94 is also known as a starburst galaxy. Because M94 is relatively nearby, astronomers can explore in detail reasons for the galaxy's burst of star formation.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2009 May 2 - The Whale Galaxy
Explanation: NGC 4631 is a big beautiful spiral galaxy. Seen edge-on, it lies only 25 million light-years away in the well-trained northern constellation Canes Venatici. The galaxy's slightly distorted wedge shape suggests to some a cosmic herring and to others its popular moniker, The Whale Galaxy. Either way, it is similar in size to our own Milky Way. In this gorgeous color image, the galaxy's yellowish core, dark dust clouds, bright blue star clusters, and red star forming regions are easy to spot. A companion galaxy, the small elliptical NGC 4627, is just above the Whale Galaxy. Out of view, off the lower edge of the picture lies another distorted galaxy, hockey stick-shaped NGC 4656. The distortions and mingling trails of gas and dust detected at other wavelengths suggest that all three galaxies have had close encounters with each other in their past. The Whale Galaxy is also known to have spouted a halo of hot gas glowing in x-rays.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2009 April 28 - NGC 4565: Galaxy on the Edge
Explanation: Is our Galaxy this thin? We believe so. Magnificent spiral galaxy NGC 4565 is likely similar to our own spiral galaxy, but viewed edge-on from far away. Also known as the Needle Galaxy for its narrow profile, bright NGC 4565 is a stop on many telescopic tours of the northern sky as it lies in the faint but well-groomed constellation Coma Berenices. This sharp color image reveals the galaxy's bulging central core dominated by light from a population of older, yellowish stars. The core is dramatically cut by obscuring dust lanes which lace NGC 4565's thin galactic plane. NGC 4565 lies about 30 million light-years distant and spans over 100,000 light-years in diameter. Visible through a small telescope, some sky enthusiasts consider NGC 4565 to be a prominent celestial masterpiece Messier missed.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2009 April 8 - Unusual Dusty Galaxy NGC 7049
Explanation: How was this unusual looking galaxy created? No one is sure, especially since spiral galaxy NGC 7049 looks so strange. NGC 7049's striking appearance is primarily due to an unusually prominent dust ring seen mostly in silhouette. The opaque ring is much darker than the din of millions of bright stars glowing behind it. Besides the dark dust, NGC 7049 appears similar to a smooth elliptical galaxy, although featuring surprisingly few globular star clusters. NGC 7049 is pictured above as imaged recently by the Hubble Space Telescope. The bright star near the top of NGC 7049 is an unrelated foreground star in our own Galaxy. Not visible here is an unusual central polar ring of gas circling out of the plane near the galaxy's center. Since NGC 7049 is the brightest galaxy in its cluster of galaxies, its formation might be fostered by several prominent and recent galaxy collisions. NGC 7049 spans about 150 thousand light years and lies about 100 million light years away toward the constellation of Indus.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2009 February 28 - NGC 2442: Galaxy in Volans
Explanation: Distorted galaxy NGC 2442 can be found in the southern constellation of the flying fish, (Piscis) Volans. Located about 50 million light-years away, the galaxy's two spiral arms extending from a pronounced central bar give it a hook-shaped appearance. This deep color image also shows the arms' obscuring dust lanes, young blue star clusters and reddish star forming regions surrounding a core of yellowish light from an older population of stars. But the star forming regions seem more concentrated along the drawn-out (right side) spiral arm. The distorted structure is likely the result of an ancient close encounter with the smaller galaxy seen near the top left of this field of view. The two interacting galaxies are separated by about 150,000 light-years at the estimated distance of NGC 2442.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2008 October 10 - Irregular Galaxy NGC 55
Explanation: Irregular galaxy NGC 55 is thought to be similar to the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC). But while the LMC is about 180,000 light-years away and is a well known satellite of our own Milky Way Galaxy, NGC 55 is more like 6 million light-years distant and is a member of the Sculptor Galaxy Group. Classified as an irregular galaxy, in deep exposures the LMC itself resembles a barred disk galaxy. However, spanning about 50,000 light-years, NGC 55 is seen nearly edge-on, presenting a flattened, narrow profile in contrast with our face-on view of the LMC. Just as large star forming regions create emission nebulae in the LMC, NGC 55 is also seen to be producing new stars. This gorgeous galaxy portrait highlights a bright core, telltale pinkish emission regions, and young blue star clusters in NGC 55.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2008 September 13 - M33: Triangulum Galaxy
Explanation: The small, northern constellation Triangulum harbors this magnificent face-on spiral galaxy, M33. Its popular names include the Pinwheel Galaxy or just the Triangulum Galaxy. M33 is over 50,000 light-years in diameter, third largest in the Local Group of galaxies after the Andromeda Galaxy (M31), and our own Milky Way. About 3 million light-years from the Milky Way, M33 is itself thought to be a satellite of the Andromeda Galaxy and astronomers in these two galaxies would likely have spectacular views of each other's grand spiral star systems. As for the view from planet Earth, this sharp, detailed image nicely shows off M33's blue star clusters and pinkish star forming regions that trace the galaxy's loosely wound spiral arms. In fact, the cavernous NGC 604 is the brightest star forming region, seen here at about the 1 o'clock position from the galaxy center. Like M31, M33's population of well-measured variable stars have helped make this nearby spiral a cosmic yardstick for establishing the distance scale of the Universe.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2008 July 28 - SDSSJ1430: A Galaxy Einstein Ring
Explanation: What's large and blue and can wrap itself around an entire galaxy? A gravitational lens mirage. Pictured above on the left, the gravity of a normal white galaxy has gravitationally distorted the light from a much more distant blue galaxy. More normally, such light bending results in two discernable images of the distant galaxy, but here the lens alignment is so precise that the background galaxy is distorted into a nearly complete ring. Since such a lensing effect was generally predicted in some detail by Albert Einstein over 70 years ago, such rings like SDSSJ1430 are now know as Einstein Rings. SDSSJ1430 was discovered during the Sloan Lens Advanced Camera for Surveys (SLACS) campaign, an observation program that inspected lens candidates found by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) with the Hubble Space Telescope's ACS. Strong gravitational lenses like SDSSJ1440 are more than oddities -- their multiple properties allow astronomers to determine the mass and dark matter content of the foreground galaxy lenses. Given these determinations, SLACS data has now been used, for example, to show that dark matter fraction increases with overall galaxy mass. The inset images on the right depict, from top to bottom, a computer reconstructed image of what the background blue galaxy really looks like, just the white foreground galaxy, and just the lensed blue background galaxy.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2008 May 12 - The M81 Galaxy Group Through the Integrated Flux Nebula
Explanation: Large galaxies and faint nebulae highlight this deep image of the M81 Group of galaxies. First and foremost in the wide-angle 12-hour exposure is the grand design spiral galaxy M81, the largest galaxy visible in the image. M81 is gravitationally interacting with M82 just below it, a big galaxy with an unusual halo of filamentary red-glowing gas. Around the image many other galaxies from the M81 Group of galaxies can be seen. Together with other galaxy congregates including our Local Group of galaxies and the Virgo Cluster of galaxies, the M81 Group is part of the expansive Virgo Supercluster of Galaxies. This whole galaxy menagerie is seen through the faint glow of an Integrated Flux Nebula, a little studied complex of diffuse gas and dust clouds in our Milky Way Galaxy.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2008 January 10 - Active Galaxy Centaurus A
Explanation: A mere 11 million light-years away, Centaurus A is a giant elliptical galaxy - the closest active galaxy to Earth. This remarkable composite view of the galaxy combines image data from the x-ray ( Chandra), optical(ESO), and radio(VLA) regimes. Centaurus A's central region is a jumble of gas, dust, and stars in optical light, but both radio and x-ray telescopes trace a remarkable jet of high-energy particles streaming from the galaxy's core. The cosmic particle accelerator's power source is a black hole with about 10 million times the mass of the Sun coincident with the x-ray bright spot at the galaxy's center. Blasting out from the active galactic nucleus toward the upper left, the energetic jet extends about 13,000 light-years. A shorter jet extends from the nucleus in the opposite direction. Other x-ray bright spots in the field are binary star systems with neutron stars or stellar mass black holes. Active galaxy Centaurus A is likely the result of a merger with a spiral galaxy some 100 million years ago.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2008 January 9 - Hidden Galaxy IC 342 from Kitt Peak
Explanation: Beautiful nearby spiral galaxy IC 342 could be more famous if it wasn't so hidden. A sprawling island universe, IC 342 would be a prominent galaxy in our night sky, but it is almost hidden from view behind the veil of stars, gas and dust clouds in the plane of our Milky Way galaxy. Similar in size to other large, bright spiral galaxies IC 342 is a mere 7 million light-years distant in the long-necked, northern constellation of the Giraffe (Camelopardalis). Even though IC 342's light is dimmed by intervening cosmic clouds, this remarkably sharp telescopic image traces the galaxy's own obscuring dust, blue star clusters, and glowing pink star forming regions along spiral arms that wind far from the galaxy's core. IC 342 may have undergone a recent burst of star formation activity and is close enough to have gravitationally influenced the evolution of the local group of galaxies and the Milky Way.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2008 January 2 - A Galaxy is not a Comet
Explanation: This gorgeous galaxy and comet portrait was recorded on December 30th, in the skies over Hoogeveen, The Netherlands. The combined series of 60 x 60 second exposures finds the lovely green coma of Comet 8P/Tuttle near its predicted conjunction with the Triangulum Galaxy. Aligning each exposure with the stars shows the comet as a streak, slowly moving against the background stars and galaxy. An alternative composition with exposures centered on the comet, shows the background stars and galaxy as streaks. The alluring celestial scene would also have been a rewarding one for the influential 18th century comet hunter Charles Messier. While Messier scanned French skies for comets, he carefully cataloged positions of things which were fuzzy and comet-like in appearance but did not move against the background stars and so were definitely not comets. The Triangulum Galaxy, also known as M33, is the 33rd object in his famous not-a-comet catalog. The modern understanding holds that the Triangulum Galaxy is a large spiral galaxy some 3 million light-years distant. Comet 8P/Tuttle, just bright enough to be visible to the unaided eye in dark, northern skies, is about 40 million kilometers (2 light-minutes) away.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2007 November 4 - The Closest Galaxy: Canis Major Dwarf
Explanation: What is the closest galaxy to the Milky Way? The new answer to this old question is the Canis Major dwarf galaxy. For many years astronomers thought the Large Magellan Cloud (LMC) was closest, but its title was supplanted in 1994 by the Sagittarius dwarf galaxy. Recent measurements indicate that the Canis Major dwarf is only 42,000 light years from the Galactic center, about three quarters of the distance to the Sagittarius dwarf and a quarter of the distance to the LMC. The discovery was made in data from the 2MASS-sky survey, where infrared light allows a better view through our optically opaque Galactic plane. The labeled illustration above shows the location of the newly discovered Canis Major dwarf and its associated tidal stream of material in relation to our Milky Way Galaxy. The Canis Major dwarf and other satellite galaxies are slowly being gravitationally ripped apart as they travel around and through our Galaxy.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2007 March 15 - NGC 2442: Galaxy in Volans
Explanation: Distorted galaxy NGC 2442 can be found in the southern constellation of the flying fish, (Piscis) Volans. Located about 50 million light-years away, the galaxy's two spiral arms extending from a pronounced central bar give it an ominous hook-shaped appearance. This striking color image also shows obscuring dust lanes, young blue star clusters and reddish star forming regions surrounding a core of yellowish light from an older population of stars. But the star forming regions seem more concentrated along the drawn-out northern (top) spiral arm. The distorted structure is likely the result of a close encounter with a smaller galaxy located just outside this telescopic field of view. The picture spans about 1/6 of a degree, or 150,000 light years at the estimated distance of NGC 2442.

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 16 - Polar Ring Galaxy NGC 2685
Explanation: NGC 2685 is a confirmed polar ring galaxy - a rare type of galaxy with stars, gas and dust orbiting in rings perpendicular to the plane of a flat galactic disk. The bizarre configuration could be caused by the chance capture of material from another galaxy by a disk galaxy, with the captured debris strung out in a rotating ring. Still, observed properties of NGC 2685 suggest that the rotating ring structure is remarkably old and stable. In this fascinating view of the peculiar system also known as Arp 336 or the Helix galaxy, the strange, perpendicular rings are easy to trace as they pass in front of the galactic disk, along with other disturbed outer structures. NGC 2685 is about 50,000 light-years across and 40 million light-years away in the constellation Ursa Major.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2006 November 28 - Unusual Starburst Galaxy NGC 1313
Explanation: Why is this galaxy so discombobulated? Usually, galaxies this topsy-turvy result from a recent collision with a neighboring galaxy. Spiral galaxy NGC 1313, however, appears to be alone. Brightly lit with new and blue massive stars, star formation appears so rampant in NGC 1313 that it has been labeled a starburst galaxy. Strange features of NGC 1313 include that its spiral arms are lopsided and its rotational axis is not at the center of the nuclear bar. Pictured above, NGC 1313 spans about 50,000 light years and lies only about 15 million light years away toward the constellation of Reticulum. Continued numerical modeling of galaxies like NGC 1313 might shed some light on its unusual nature.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2006 November 26 - M31: The Andromeda Galaxy
Explanation: Andromeda is the nearest major galaxy to our own Milky Way Galaxy. Our Galaxy is thought to look much like Andromeda. Together these two galaxies dominate the Local Group of galaxies. The diffuse light from Andromeda is caused by the hundreds of billions of stars that compose it. The several distinct stars that surround Andromeda's image are actually stars in our Galaxy that are well in front of the background object. Andromeda is frequently referred to as M31 since it is the 31st object on Messier's list of diffuse sky objects. M31 is so distant it takes about two million years for light to reach us from there. Although visible without aid, the above image of M31 is a digital mosaic of 20 frames taken with a small telescope. Much about M31 remains unknown, including how the center acquired two nuclei.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2006 September 14 - M33: Spiral Galaxy in Triangulum
Explanation: The small, northern constellation Triangulum harbors this magnificent face-on spiral galaxy, M33. Its popular names include the Pinwheel Galaxy or just the Triangulum Galaxy. M33 is over 50,000 light-years in diameter, third largest in the Local Group of galaxies after the Andromeda Galaxy (M31), and our own Milky Way. About 3 million light-years from the Milky Way, M33 is itself thought to be a satellite of the Andromeda Galaxy and astronomers in these two galaxies would likely have spectacular views of each other's grand spiral star systems. As for the view from planet Earth, this detailed, wide field image nicely shows off M33's blue star clusters and pinkish star forming regions which trace the galaxy's loosely wound spiral arms. In fact, the cavernous NGC 604 is the brightest star forming region, seen here at about the 1 o'clock position from the galaxy center. Like M31, M33's population of well-measured variable stars have helped make this nearby spiral a cosmic yardstick for establishing the distance scale of the Universe.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2006 July 4 - Elliptical Galaxy Centaurus A from CFHT
Explanation: Why is peculiar galaxy Centaurus A so dusty? Dramatic dust lanes that run across the galaxy's center mark Cen A. These dust lanes are so thick they almost completely obscure the galaxy's center in visible light. This is particularly unusual as Cen A's red stars and round shape are characteristic of a giant elliptical galaxy, a galaxy type usually low in dark dust. Cen A, also known as NGC 5128, is also unusual compared to an average elliptical galaxy because it contains a higher proportion of young blue stars and is a very strong source of radio emission. Evidence indicates that Cen A is likely the result of the collision of two normal galaxies. During the collision, many young stars were formed, but details of the creation of Cen A's unusual dust belts are still being researched. Cen A lies only 13 million light years away, making it the closest active galaxy. Cen A, pictured above, spans 60,000 light years and can be seen with binoculars toward the constellation of Centaurus.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2006 June 12 - Edge On Galaxy NGC 5866
Explanation: Why is this galaxy so thin? Many disk galaxies are actually just as thin as NGC 5866, pictured above, but are not seen edge-on from our vantage point. One galaxy that is situated edge-on is our own Milky Way Galaxy. Classified as a lenticular galaxy, NGC 5866 has numerous and complex dust lanes appearing dark and red, while many of the bright stars in the disk give it a more blue underlying hue. The blue disk of young stars can be seen extending past the dust in the extremely thin galactic plane, while the bulge in the disk center appears tinged more orange from the older and redder stars that likely exist there. Although similar in mass to our Milky Way Galaxy, light takes about 60,000 years to cross NGC 5866, about 30 percent less than light takes to cross our own Galaxy. In general, many disk galaxies are very thin because the gas that formed them collided with itself as it rotated about the gravitational center. Galaxy NGC 5866 lies about 44 million light years distant toward the constellation of the Dragon (Draco).

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2006 March 4 - The Galaxy Within Centaurus A
Explanation: Peering deep inside Centaurus A, the closest active galaxy to Earth, the Spitzer Space Telescope's penetrating infrared cameras recorded this startling vista in February 2004. About 1,000 light-years across, the twisted cosmic dust cloud apparently shaped like a parallelogram is likely the result of a smaller spiral galaxy falling into the giant Centaurus A. The parallelogram lies along the active galaxy's central band of dust and stars visible in more familiar optical images. Astronomers believe that the striking geometric shape represents an approximately edge-on view of the infalling spiral galaxy's disk in the process of being twisted and warped by the interaction. Ultimately, debris from the ill-fated spiral galaxy should provide fuel for the supermassive black hole lurking at the center of Centaurus A.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2005 October 22 - Ring Galaxy AM 0644-741 from Hubble
Explanation: How could a galaxy become shaped like a ring? The rim of the blue galaxy pictured on the right is an immense ring-like structure 150,000 light years in diameter composed of newly formed, extremely bright, massive stars. That galaxy, AM 0644-741, is known as a ring galaxy and was caused by an immense galaxy collision. When galaxies collide, they pass through each other -- their individual stars rarely come into contact. The ring-like shape is the result of the gravitational disruption caused by an entire small intruder galaxy passing through a large one. When this happens, interstellar gas and dust become condensed, causing a wave of star formation to move out from the impact point like a ripple across the surface of a pond. The intruder galaxy has since moved out of the frame taken by the Hubble Space Telescope and released to commemorate the anniversary of Hubble's launch in 1990. Ring galaxy AM 0644-741 lies about 300 million light years away.

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: 2004 December 3 - I Zwicky 18: Young Galaxy
Explanation: The Milky Way is an ordinary 12 billion year old spiral galaxy, and even our middle-aged Sun is pushing 4.5 billion years. But all the stars in dwarf galaxy I Zwicky 18 are much younger. In fact, based on Hubble Space Telescope image data, that galaxy's first stars formed only about 500 million years ago, making it the youngest known galaxy. In this view, the bright knots are the two major star forming regions of I Zwicky 18, embedded in expanding filaments of glowing interstellar gas. Scattered, much older background galaxies are seen as small red blobs, and a companion galaxy lies just beyond the upper right corner of the cropped picture. Astronomers believe that diminutive I Zwicky 18 resembles the earliest galaxies formed, but also want to understand how such a young galaxy can be only 45 million light-years away - surrounded by mature galaxies in an aging Universe. The tiny galaxy itself is a mere 3,000 light-years across.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 November 16 - Sagittarius Dwarf Irregular Galaxy
Explanation: How old is this galaxy? The nearby Local Group galaxy dubbed the Sagittarius Dwarf Irregular Galaxy (SagDIG) is not only very small but also has relatively few elements more massive than helium. Now the lack of heavy elements might mean that SagDIG is very young, so that component stars had little time to create and disperse massive elements. Conversely, SagDIG's diminutive size could indicate that it formed in the early universe, being a surviving building block of modern large galaxies. The above detailed image from the Hubble Space Telescope has now resolved enough stars to solve this mystery: SagDIG is ancient. Although SagDIG does have some groups of young stars, many stars are very old, and the galaxy as a whole helps astronomers to understand how the universe evolved, and show that at least one metal-poor galaxy is almost as old as the universe. Pictured above, SagDIG spans about 1,500 light years and lies about 3.5 million light years away toward the constellation of Sagittarius.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 September 5 - M51: The Whirlpool Galaxy in Dust and Stars
Explanation: The Whirlpool Galaxy is a classic spiral galaxy. At only 30 million light years distant and fully 60 thousand light years across, M51, also known as NGC 5194, is one of the brightest and most picturesque galaxies on the sky. The above image is a digital combination of a ground-based image from the 0.9-meter telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory and a space-based image from the Hubble Space Telescope highlighting sharp features normally too red to be seen. Anyone with a good pair of binoculars, however, can see this Whirlpool toward the constellation of Canes Venatici. M51 is a spiral galaxy of type Sc and is the dominant member of a whole group of galaxies. Astronomers speculate that M51's spiral structure is primarily due to its gravitational interaction with a smaller galaxy just off the top of this digitally sharpened image.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 June 24 - The Galaxy Within Centaurus A
Explanation: Peering deep inside Centaurus A, the closest active galaxy to Earth, the Spitzer Space Telescope's penetrating infrared cameras recorded this startling vista. About 1,000 light-years across, the twisted cosmic dust cloud apparently shaped like a parallelogram is likely the result of a smaller spiral galaxy falling into the giant Centaurus A. The parallelogram lies along the active galaxy's central band of dust and stars visible in more familiar optical images. Astronomers believe that the striking geometric shape represents an approximately edge-on view of the infalling spiral galaxy's disk in the process of being twisted and warped by the interaction. Ultimately, debris from the ill-fated spiral galaxy should provide fuel for the supermassive black hole lurking at the center of Centaurus A.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 June 16 - Elliptical Galaxy M87
Explanation: Elliptical galaxy M87 is a type of galaxy that looks much different than our own Milky Way Galaxy. Even for an elliptical galaxy, though, M87 is peculiar. M87 is much bigger than an average galaxy, appears near the center of a whole cluster of galaxies known as the Virgo Cluster, and shows an unusually high number of globular clusters. These globular clusters are visible as faint spots surrounding the bright center of M87. In general, elliptical galaxies contain similar numbers of stars as spiral galaxies, but are ellipsoidal in shape (spirals are mostly flat), have no spiral structure, and little gas and dust. The above image of M87 was taken recently by the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope on top of the dormant volcano Mauna Kea in Hawaii, USA.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 April 26 - Ring Galaxy AM 0644 741 from Hubble
Explanation: How could a galaxy become shaped like a ring? The rim of the blue galaxy pictured on the right is an immense ring-like structure 150,000 light years in diameter composed of newly formed, extremely bright, massive stars. That galaxy, AM 0644-741, is known as a ring galaxy and was caused by an immense galaxy collision. When galaxies collide, they pass through each other -- their individual stars rarely come into contact. The ring-like shape is the result of the gravitational disruption caused by an entire small intruder galaxy passing through a large one. When this happens, interstellar gas and dust become condensed, causing a wave of star formation to move out from the impact point like a ripple across the surface of a pond. The intruder galaxy has since moved out of the frame taken by the Hubble Space Telescope and released to commemorate last Saturday's fourteenth anniversary of Hubble's launch. Ring galaxy AM 0644-741 lies about 300 million light years away.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 April 9 - NGC 4565: Galaxy on the Edge
Explanation: Magnificent spiral galaxy NGC 4565 is viewed edge-on from planet Earth. Also known as the Needle Galaxy for its narrow profile, bright NGC 4565 is a stop on many springtime telescopic tours of the northern sky as it lies in the faint but well-groomed constellation Coma Berenices. This sharp color image reveals the galaxy's bulging central core dominated by light from a population of older, yellowish stars. The core is dramatically cut by obscuring dust lanes which lace NGC 4565's thin galactic plane. A large island universe similar to our own Milky Way Galaxy, NGC 4565 is only about 30 million light-years distant, but over 100,000 light-years in diameter. In fact, some consider NGC 4565 to be a prominent celestial masterpiece Messier missed.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 April 7 - Unusual Spiral Galaxy M66
Explanation: Why isn't spiral galaxy M66 symmetric? Usually density waves of gas, dust, and newly formed stars circle a spiral galaxy's center and create a nearly symmetric galaxy. The differences between M66's spiral arms and the apparent displacement of its nucleus are all likely caused by the tidal gravitational pull of nearby galaxy neighbor M65. Spiral galaxy M66, pictured above, spans about 100,000 light years, lies about 35 million light years distant, and is the largest galaxy in a group including M65 and NGC 3628 known as the Leo Triplet. Like many spiral galaxies, the long and intricate dust lanes of M66 are seen intertwined with the bright stars and nebulas that light up the spiral arms.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 March 17 - Redshift 10: Evidence for a New Farthest Galaxy
Explanation: What's the farthest galaxy known? The answer keeps changing as astronomers compete to find galaxies that top the list. The new claimed record holder is now the faint smudge indicated in the above images by an 8.2-meter Very Large Telescope (VLT) operating in Chile. Detected light left this galaxy 13.2 billion of years ago, well before the Earth formed, when the universe was younger than 3 percent of its present age. Astronomers have estimated a redshift of 10 for this galaxy, the first double-digit claim for any galaxy. Young galaxies are of much interest to astronomers because many unanswered questions exist on when and how galaxies formed in the early universe. The distant redshift, if confirmed, would also give valuable information about galaxy surroundings at the end of the universe's dark age. Although this galaxy's distance exceeds that of even the farthest known quasar, it is still in front of the pervasive glowing gas that is now seen as the cosmic microwave background radiation.

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: 2004 January 23 - NGC 4631: The Whale Galaxy
Explanation: NGC 4631 is a big beautiful spiral galaxy seen edge-on only 25 million light-years away towards the small northern constellation Canes Venatici. This galaxy's slightly distorted wedge shape suggests to some a cosmic herring and to others the popular moniker of The Whale Galaxy. Either way, it is similar in size to our own Milky Way. In this gorgeous color image, the Whale's dark interstellar dust clouds, young bright blue star clusters, and purplish star forming regions are easy to spot. A companion galaxy, the small elliptical NGC 4627 appears above the Whale Galaxy. Out of view off the lower left corner of the picture lies another distorted galaxy, the hockey stick-shaped NGC 4656. The distortions and mingling trails of gas and dust detected at other wavelengths suggest that all three galaxies have had close encounters with each other in their past. The Whale Galaxy is also known to have spouted a halo of hot gas glowing in x-rays.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2003 November 23 - A Superwind from the Cigar Galaxy
Explanation: What's lighting up the Cigar Galaxy? M82, as this irregular galaxy is also known, was stirred up by a recent pass near large spiral galaxy M81. This doesn't fully explain the source of the red-glowing outwardly expanding gas, however. Recent evidence indicates that this gas is being driven out by the combined emerging particle winds of many stars, together creating a galactic "superwind." The above recently released photograph from the new Subaru Telescope highlights the specific color of red light strongly emitted by ionized hydrogen gas, showing detailed filaments of this gas. The filaments extend for over 10,000 light years. The 12-million light-year distant Cigar Galaxy is the brightest galaxy in the sky in infrared light, and can be seen in visible light with a small telescope towards the constellation of Ursa Major.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2003 November 17 - Canis Major Dwarf: A New Closest Galaxy
Explanation: What is the closest galaxy to the Milky Way? The new answer to this old question is the Canis Major dwarf galaxy. For many years astronomers thought the Large Magellan Cloud (LMC) was closest, but its title was supplanted in 1994 by the Sagittarius dwarf galaxy. Recent measurements indicate that the Canis Major dwarf is only 42,000 light years from the Galactic center, about three quarters of the distance to the Sagittarius dwarf and a quarter of the distance to the LMC. The discovery was made in data from the 2MASS-sky survey, where infrared light allows a better view through our optically opaque Galactic plane. The labeled illustration above shows the location of the newly discovered Canis Major dwarf and its associated tidal stream of material in relation to our Milky Way Galaxy. The Canis Major dwarf and other satellite galaxies are slowly being gravitationally ripped apart as they travel around and through our Galaxy.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2003 September 24 - M33: Spiral Galaxy in Triangulum
Explanation: The small constellation Triangulum in the northern sky harbors this magnificent face-on spiral galaxy, M33. Its popular names include the Pinwheel Galaxy or just the Triangulum Galaxy. M33's diameter spans over 50,000 light-years, making it third largest in the Local Group of galaxies after the Andromeda Galaxy (M31), and our own Milky Way. About 3 million light-years from the Milky Way, M33 lies very close to the Andromeda Galaxy and observers in these two galaxies would likely have spectacular views of each other's grand spiral star systems. As for the view from planet Earth, this sharp 27 frame mosaic of M33 nicely shows off blue star clusters and pinkish star forming regions which trace the galaxy's loosely wound spiral arms. In fact, the cavernous NGC 604 is the brightest star forming region seen here, visible along an arm arcing above and to the right of the galaxy center. Like M31, M33's population of well-measured variable stars have helped make this nearby spiral a cosmic yardstick for establishing the distance scale of the Universe.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2003 August 6 - Dusty Galaxy Centaurus A
Explanation: Why is peculiar galaxy Centaurus A so dusty? Dramatic dust lanes that run across the galaxy's center mark Cen A. These dust lanes are so thick they almost completely obscure the galaxy's center in visible light. This is particularly unusual as Cen A's red stars and round shape are characteristic of a giant elliptical galaxy, a galaxy type usually low in dark dust. Cen A, also known as NGC 5128, is also unusual compared to an average elliptical galaxy because it contains a higher proportion of young blue stars and is a very strong source of radio emission. Evidence indicates that Cen A is likely the result of the collision of two normal galaxies. During the collision, many young stars were formed, but details of the creation of Cen A's unusual dust belts are still being researched. Cen A lies only 13 million light years away, making it the closest active galaxy. Cen A spans 60,000 light years and can be seen with binoculars toward the constellation of Centaurus.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2003 July 5 - Centaurus A: X-Rays from an Active Galaxy
Explanation: Its core hidden from optical view by a thick lane of dust, the giant elliptical galaxy Centaurus A was among the first objects observed by the orbiting Chandra X-ray Observatory. Astronomers were not disappointed, as Centaurus A's appearance in x-rays makes its classification as an active galaxy easy to appreciate. Perhaps the most striking feature of this Chandra false-color x-ray view is the jet, 30,000 light-years long. Blasting toward the upper left corner of the picture, the jet seems to arise from the galaxy's bright central x-ray source -- suspected of harboring a black hole with a million or so times the mass of the Sun. Centaurus A is also seen to be teeming with other individual x-ray sources and a pervasive, diffuse x-ray glow. Most of these individual sources are likely to be neutron stars or solar mass black holes accreting material from their less exotic binary companion stars. The diffuse high-energy glow represents gas throughout the galaxy heated to temperatures of millions of degrees C. At 11 million light-years distant in the constellation Centaurus, Centaurus A (NGC 5128) is the closest active galaxy.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2003 April 19 - Spiral Galaxy In Centaurus
Explanation: Centaurus, the Centaur, is one of the most striking constellations in the southern sky. The lovely Milky Way flows through this large constellation whose celestial wonders also include the closest star to the sun, Alpha Centauri, the largest globular star cluster in our galaxy, Omega Centauri, and the closest active galaxy, Centaurus A. Embraced by tightly wound spiral arms of bright blue star clusters, this gorgeous galaxy - cataloged as ESO 269-57 - also falls within Centaurus' borders. Seen behind a veil of foreground stars which lie within our own galaxy, this face-on spiral galaxy is about 150 million light-years away and 200,000 light-years across. The brighter foreground stars are marked by diffraction spikes caused by the telescope and yellow vertical stripes due to saturated digital camera pixels in the above Very Large Telescope image from the European Southern Observatory. Tantalizing wisps of more distant, faint galaxies are visible in the background.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2003 January 14 - 0313-192: The Wrong Galaxy
Explanation: Centered above is distant galaxy 0313-192, some one billion light-years away. Radio emission from the galaxy has been mapped by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory's Very Large Array and is shown in red, composited with a visible light image from the Hubble Space Telescope's new Advanced Camera for Surveys. Dust lanes and other features in the Hubble image as well as infrared Gemini telescope data demonstrate clearly that 0313-192 is a spiral galaxy seen edge-on. (Note the unrelated spiral galaxy seen face-on above and to the right.) For years, double cosmic clouds of radio emission such as those flanking this spiral galaxy's core have been studied and cataloged. But, at least until now, such radio sources were only known to arise from the cores of giant elliptical galaxies or in violent merging galaxy systems, making 0313-192 the wrong kind of galaxy to be found in this scenario. Astronomers are searching for clues to why this spiral galaxy, potentially similar to our own Milky Way, shows such powerful activity.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2002 July 21 - Nearby Spiral Galaxy NGC 4945
Explanation: For such a close galaxy, NGC 4945 is easy to miss. NGC 4945 is a spiral galaxy in the Centaurus Group of galaxies, located only six times farther away than the prominent Andromeda Galaxy. The thin disk galaxy is oriented nearly edge-on, however, and shrouded in dark dust. Therefore galaxy-gazers searching the southern constellation of Centaurus need a telescope to see it. The above picture was taken with a large telescope testing a new wide-angle, high-resolution CCD camera. Most of the spots scattered about the frame are foreground stars in our own Galaxy, but some spots are globular clusters orbiting the distant galaxy. NGC 4945 is thought to be quite similar to our own Milky Way Galaxy. X-ray observations reveal, however, that NGC 4945 has an unusual, energetic, Seyfert 2 nucleus that might house a large black hole.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2002 April 12 - A Galaxy is not a Comet
Explanation: This gorgeous galaxy and comet portrait was recorded on April 5th in the skies over the Oriental Pyrenees near Figueres, Spain. From a site above 1,100 meters, astrophotographer Juan Carlos Casado used a guided time exposure, fast film, and a telephoto lens to capture the predicted conjunction of the bright Comet Ikeya-Zhang (right) and the Andromeda Galaxy (left). This stunning celestial scene would also have been a rewarding one for the influential 18th century comet hunter Charles Messier. While Messier scanned French skies for comets, he carefully cataloged positions of things which were fuzzy and comet-like in appearance but did not move against the background stars and so were definitely not comets. The Andromeda Galaxy, also known as M31, is the 31st object in his famous not-a-comet catalog. Not-a-comet object number 110, a late addition to Messier's catalog, is one of Andromeda's small satellite galaxies, and can be seen here just below M31. Our modern understanding holds that the Andromeda galaxy is a large spiral galaxy some 2 million light-years distant. The photogenic Comet Ikeya-Zhang, now a lovely sight in early morning skies, is about 80 million kilometers (4 light-minutes) from planet Earth.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2002 March 29 - NGC 4631: The Whale Galaxy
Explanation: NGC 4631 is a big beautiful spiral galaxy seen edge-on only 25 million light-years away towards the small northern constellation Canes Venatici. This galaxy's slightly distorted wedge shape suggests to some a cosmic herring and to others the popular moniker of The Whale Galaxy. Either way, it is similar in size to our own Milky Way. In this gorgeous color image, the Whale's dark interstellar dust clouds, young bright blue star clusters, and purplish star forming regions are easy to spot. A companion galaxy, the small elliptical NGC 4627 appears above the Whale Galaxy. Out of view off the lower left corner of the picture lies another distorted galaxy, the hockey stick-shaped NGC 4656. The distortions and mingling trails of gas and dust detected at other wavelengths suggest that all three galaxies have had close encounters with each other in their past. The Whale Galaxy is also known to have spouted a halo of hot gas glowing in x-rays.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2002 February 2 - Centaurus A: The Galaxy Deep Inside
Explanation: Deep inside Centaurus A, the closest active galaxy to Earth, lies ... another galaxy! Cen A is a giant elliptical galaxy a mere 10 million light-years distant with a central jumble of stars, dust, and gas that probably hides a massive black hole. This composite combines an optical picture of Cen A with dark lines tracing lobes of radio emission and an infrared image from the ISO satellite (in red). The ISO data maps out the dust in what appears to be a barred spiral galaxy about the size of the prominent nearby spiral M33. The discoverers believe that the giant elliptical's gravity helps this barred spiral galaxy maintain its shape. In turn, material funneled along the spiral's bar fuels the central black hole which powers the elliptical's radio lobes. This apparently intimate association between two distinct and dissimilar galaxies suggests a truly cosmic symbiotic relationship.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2002 January 23 - Local Group Galaxy NGC 6822
Explanation: Nearby galaxy NGC 6822 is irregular in several ways. First, the galaxy's star distribution merits a formal classification of dwarf irregular, and from our vantage-point the small galaxy appears nearly rectangular. What strikes astronomers as more peculiar, however, is NGC 6822's unusually high abundance of HII regions, locales of ionized hydrogen that surround young stars. Large HII regions, also known as emission nebulas, are visible surrounding the small galaxy, particularly toward the upper right. Toward the lower left are bright stars that are loosely grouped into an arm. Pictured above, NGC 6822, also known as Barnard's Galaxy, is located only about 1.5 million light years away and so is a member of our Local Group of Galaxies. The galaxy, home to famous nebulas including Hubble V, is visible with a small telescope toward the constellation of Sagittarius.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2002 January 17 - Pick a Galaxy Any Galaxy
Explanation: Pick a galaxy, any galaxy. In the top panel you can choose from a myriad of distant galaxies revealed in a deep Hubble Space Telescope image of a narrow slice of the cosmos toward the constellation Hercules. If you picked the distorted reddish galaxy indicated by the yellow box, then you've chosen one a team of infrared astronomers has recently placed at a distance of 9 billion light-years. Classified as an ERO (Extremely Red Object), this galaxy is from a time when the Universe was only one third its present age. Along the bottom panel, this galaxy's appearance in filters ranging from visible to infrared wavelengths (left to right) is presented as a series of negative images. The brightness of the galaxy in the infrared compared to the visible suggests that light from intense star formation activity, reddened by dust clouds within the galaxy itself, is responsible for the extremely red color. Astronomers estimate that this galaxy has around 100 billion stars and may in fact be a very distant mirror -- an analog of our own Milky Way Galaxy in its formative years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2001 August 16 - Centaurus A: X-Rays from an Active Galaxy
Explanation: Its core hidden from optical view by a thick lane of dust, the giant elliptical galaxy Centaurus A was among the first objects observed by the orbiting Chandra X-ray Observatory. Astronomers were not disappointed, as Centaurus A's appearance in x-rays makes its classification as an active galaxy easy to appreciate. Perhaps the most striking feature of this Chandra false-color x-ray view is the jet, 30,000 light-years long. Blasting toward the upper left corner of the picture, the jet seems to arise from the galaxy's bright central x-ray source -- suspected of harboring a black hole with a million or so times the mass of the Sun. Centaurus A is also seen to be teeming with other individual x-ray sources and a pervasive, diffuse x-ray glow. Most of these individual sources are likely to be neutron stars or solar mass black holes accreting material from their less exotic binary companion stars. The diffuse high-energy glow represents gas throughout the galaxy heated to temperatures of millions of degrees C. At 11 million light-years distant in the constellation Centaurus, Centaurus A (NGC 5128) is the closest active galaxy.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2001 August 4 - Neighboring Galaxy: The Large Magellanic Cloud
Explanation: The brightest galaxy visible from our own Milky Way Galaxy is the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC). Visible predominantly from Earth's Southern Hemisphere, the LMC is the second closest galaxy, neighbor to the Small Magellanic Cloud, and one of eleven known dwarf galaxies that orbit our Milky Way Galaxy. The LMC is an irregular galaxy composed of a bar of older red stars, clouds of younger blue stars, and a bright red star forming region visible near the top of the above image called the Tarantula Nebula. The brightest supernova of modern times, SN1987A, occurred in the LMC.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2001 April 10 - M51: The Whirlpool Galaxy in Dust and Stars
Explanation: The Whirlpool Galaxy is a classic spiral galaxy. At only 30 million light years distant and fully 60 thousand light years across, M51, also known as NGC 5194, is one of the brightest and most picturesque galaxies on the sky. The above image is a digital combination of a ground-based image from the 0.9-meter telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory and a space-based image from the Hubble Space Telescope highlighting sharp features normally too red to be seen. Anyone with a good pair of binoculars, however, can see this Whirlpool toward the constellation of Canes Venatici. M51 is a spiral galaxy of type Sc and is the dominant member of a whole group of galaxies. Astronomers speculate that M51's spiral structure is primarily due to its gravitational interaction with a smaller galaxy just off the top of this image.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2000 December 4 - The Circinus Galaxy
Explanation: Powerful forces are at play in the nearby Circinus Galaxy. Hot gas, colored pink, is being ejected out of the spiral galaxy from the central region. Much of Circinus' tumultuous gas, however, is concentrated in two rings. The outer ring, located about 700 light-years from the center, appears mostly red and is home to tremendous bursts of star formation. A previously unseen inner ring, inside the green disk above, is visible only 130 light years from the center on this recently released, representative color image taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. At the very center is an active galactic nucleus, where matter glows brightly before likely spiraling into a massive black hole. Although only 15 million light years distant, the Circinus Galaxy went unnoticed until 25 years ago because it is so obscured by material in the plane of our own Galaxy. The galaxy can be seen with a small telescope, however, in the constellation of Circinus.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2000 October 4 - Barred Spiral Galaxy NGC 1300
Explanation: NGC 1300 is a large spiral galaxy that appears as a flattened figure eight. A huge bar that spans over 150,000 light-years across the galaxy center dominates its appearance. The picturesque galaxy lies about 75 million light-years distant, so that light that we see now left during the age of the dinosaurs. Although it is well known how fast different parts of NGC 1300 rotate, the specific orbits of many component stars -- including how they interact with the gigantic bar -- remains a topic of research. Our own Milky Way Galaxy is a spiral galaxy with a less prominent bar. NGC 1300 can be seen with a small telescope towards the constellation of Eridanus.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2000 August 16 - Unusual Giant Galaxy NGC 1316
Explanation: Can unusual giant galaxy NGC 1316 help calibrate the universe? Quite possibly -- if it turns out this atypical galaxy is composed of typical stars. NGC 1316, pictured above, is most obviously strange because it has a size and shape common for an elliptical galaxy but dust lanes and a disk more commonly found in a spiral galaxy. These attributes could be caused by interactions with another galaxy over the past billion years. Most recently, NGC 1316 has been monitored to find novae, explosions emanating from white dwarf stars that should have a standard brightness. Again, NGC 1316 was found atypical in that the nova rate was unexpectedly high. If, however, the stars and white dwarfs that compose NGC 1316 are typical, then the novae observed should be just as bright as novae in other galaxies so that astronomers can use them to compute an accurate distance. This distance can then be used to calibrate other distance indicators and result in a more accurate scale for distances throughout the universe.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2000 July 24 - M51: The Whirlpool Galaxy
Explanation: The Whirlpool Galaxy is a classic spiral galaxy. At only 23 million light years distant and fully 65 thousand light years across, M51, also known as NGC 5194, is one of the brightest and most picturesque galaxies on the sky. The smaller galaxy appearing here below and to the left is well behind M51, as can be inferred by the dust in a foreground spiral arm blocking light from this smaller galaxy. The Whirlpool, pictured above, is visible with binoculars in the constellation of Canes Venaciti. M51 is a spiral galaxy of type Sc and is the dominant member of a whole group of galaxies. Astronomers speculate that M51's spiral structure is primarily due to its gravitational interaction with this smaller galaxy.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2000 April 4 - A Superwind from the Cigar Galaxy
Explanation: What's lighting up the Cigar Galaxy? M82, as this irregular galaxy is also known, was stirred up by a recent pass near large spiral galaxy M81. This doesn't fully explain the source of the red-glowing outwardly expanding gas, however. Recent evidence indicates that this gas is being driven out by the combined emerging particle winds of many stars, together creating a galactic "superwind." The above recently released photograph from the new Subaru Telescope highlights the specific color of red light strongly emitted by ionized hydrogen gas, showing detailed filaments of this gas. The filaments extend for over 10,000 light years. The 12-million light-year distant Cigar Galaxy is the brightest galaxy in the sky in infrared light, and can be seen in visible light with a small telescope towards the constellation of Ursa Major.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2000 February 22 - Neighboring Galaxy: The Large Magellanic Cloud
Explanation: The brightest galaxy visible from our own Milky Way Galaxy is the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC). Visible predominantly from Earth's Southern Hemisphere, the LMC is the second closest galaxy, neighbor to the Small Magellanic Cloud, and one of eleven known dwarf galaxies that orbit our Milky Way Galaxy. The LMC is an irregular galaxy composed of a bar of older red stars, clouds of younger blue stars, and a bright red star forming region visible near the top of the above image called the Tarantula Nebula. The brightest supernova of modern times, SN1987A, occurred in the LMC.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2000 January 9 - Galaxy Dwingeloo 1 Emerges
Explanation: Sometimes you can't see the forest for the trees. But if you look closely at the center of the above photograph, you will see a whole spiral galaxy behind the field of stars. Named Dwingeloo 1, this nearby galaxy was only discovered recently (1994) because much of its light was obscured by dust, gas and bright stars of our own Milky Way Galaxy. In fact, all the individually discernible stars in the above photograph are in our Galaxy. Dwingeloo 1 turned out to be a large galaxy located only five times as distant as the closest major galaxy - M31.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: April 12, 1999 - Nearby Spiral Galaxy NGC 4945
Explanation: For such a close galaxy, NGC 4945 is easy to miss. NGC 4945 is a spiral galaxy in the Centaurus Group of galaxies, located only six times farther away than the prominent Andromeda Galaxy. The thin disk galaxy is oriented nearly edge-on, however, and shrouded in dark dust. Therefore galaxy-gazers searching the southern constellation of Centaurus need a telescope to see it. The above picture was taken with a large telescope testing a new wide-angle, high-resolution CCD camera. Most of the spots scattered about the frame are foreground stars in our own Galaxy, but some spots are globular clusters orbiting the distant galaxy. NGC 4945 is thought to be quite similar to our own Milky Way Galaxy. X-ray observations reveal, however, that NGC 4945 has an unusual, energetic, Seyfert 2 nucleus that might house a large black hole.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: December 23, 1998 - Ring Around the Galaxy
Explanation: It is difficult to hide one galaxy far behind another. The closer galaxy's gravity will act like a huge lens, pulling images of the background galaxy around both sides. This is just the case observed in the above recently released image from the VLT: the red galaxy in the middle is in the foreground, lensing the image of the background green galaxy into surrounding contorted arcs. These images are more than sideshows, since the distance between background images increases with the mass of the lens. This lens mass turns out to be much greater than the sum of all its stars - indicating the presence of dark matter. The distorted galaxy is said to appear as an Einstein ring, named after Albert Einstein who accurately predicted many attributes of the gravitational lens effect -- although he also guessed that such an effect was unlikely to be seen in practice.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: December 4, 1998 - Centaurus A: The Galaxy Deep Inside
Explanation: Deep inside Centaurus A, the closest active galaxy to Earth, lies ... another galaxy! Cen A is a giant elliptical galaxy a mere 10 million light-years distant with a central jumble of stars, dust, and gas that probably hides a massive black hole. This composite combines an optical picture of Cen A with dark lines tracing lobes of radio emission and an infrared image from the ISO satellite (in red). The ISO data maps out the dust in what appears to be a barred spiral galaxy about the size of the prominent nearby spiral M33. The discoverers believe that the giant elliptical's gravity helps this barred spiral galaxy maintain its shape. In turn, material funneled along the spiral's bar fuels the central black hole which powers the elliptical's radio lobes. This apparently intimate association between two distinct and dissimilar galaxies suggests a truly cosmic symbiotic relationship.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: August 2, 1998 - Galaxy Dwingeloo 1 Emerges
Explanation: Sometimes you can't see the forest for the trees. But if you look closely at the center of the above photograph, you will see a whole spiral galaxy behind the field of stars. Named Dwingeloo 1, this nearby galaxy was only discovered recently (1994) because much of its light was obscured by dust, gas and bright stars of our own Milky Way Galaxy. In fact, all the individually discernible stars in the above photograph are in our Galaxy. Dwingeloo 1 turned out to be a large galaxy located only five times as distant as the closest major galaxy - M31.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: July 15, 1998 - Ghost Galaxy NGC 2915
Explanation: How do you find a nearly invisible galaxy? Pictured above is the blue compact dwarf (BCD) galaxy NGC 2915. In visible light, shown above in yellow, this galaxy appears to be a normal dwarf galaxy, as indicated by the yellow smudge in the image center. Yet when imaged in a very specific color, shown in blue, a whole spiral galaxy appears. This specific color is in the radio band and is preferentially emitted by neutral hydrogen atoms. Much about BCD galaxies remains mysterious, such as how the neutral hydrogen obtained its shape, what drives current star formation, and why there is so much dark matter. NGC 2915 is located at the relatively nearby distance of 15 million light-years - just outside our Local Group of Galaxies.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: March 1, 1997 - Galaxy Dwingeloo 1 Emerges
Explanation: Sometimes you can't see the forest for the trees. But if you look closely at the center of the above photograph, you will see a whole spiral galaxy behind the field of stars. Named Dwingeloo 1, this nearby galaxy was only discovered recently (1994) because much of its light was obscured by dust, gas and bright stars of our own Milky Way Galaxy. In fact, all the individually discernible stars in the above photograph are in our Galaxy. Dwingeloo 1 turned out to be a large galaxy located only five times as distant as the closest major galaxy - M31.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: July 8, 1996 - M33: The Triangulum Galaxy
Explanation: The spiral galaxy M33 is a mid-sized member of our Local Group of galaxies. M33 is also called the Triangulum Galaxy for the constellation in which it resides. About four times smaller (in radius) than our Milky Way Galaxy and the Andromeda Galaxy (M31), it is much larger than the many of the local dwarf spheroidal galaxies. M33's proximity to M31 causes it to be thought by some to be a satellite galaxy of this more massive galaxy. M33's proximity to our Milky Way galaxy causes it to appear more than twice the angular size of the full moon, and visible with a good pair of binoculars. In the above picture, visible light is shown in red and ultraviolet light superposed in blue. Stars in M33 are the most distant ever to be studied spectroscopically.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: October 17, 1995 - Galaxy Dwingeloo 1 Emerges
Explanation: If you look closely at the center of the above photograph, you will see a spiral galaxy behind the field of stars. Named Dwingeloo 1, this nearby galaxy was only discovered recently (1994) because much of its light was obscured by dust, gas and bright stars of our own Milky Way galaxy. In fact, all the individually discernible stars in the above photograph are in our Galaxy. Dwingeloo 1 turned out to be a large galaxy located only five times as distant as the closest major galaxy - M31.


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