M61


M61Messier 61 is a type of galaxy known as a starburst galaxy. Starburst galaxies have an abnormally high rate of star formation, hungrily using up their reservoir of gas in a very short period of time (in astronomical terms). However, that’s not the only activity we believe is going on within M61; deep at its heart there is thought to be a supermassive black hole that is violently spewing out radiation.

Despite its inclusion in the Messier Catalogue, Messier 61 was actually discovered by Italian astronomer Barnabus Oriani in 1779. Charles Messier also noticed this galaxy on the very same day as Oriani, but mistook it for a comet.

Image Credit: NASA

M61


Messier 61 looks straight into the cameraThe spiral galaxy Messier 61 is “only” 55 million light-years away from Earth. It is roughly the size of the Milky Way, around 100 000 light-years across. The galaxy is notable for one particular reason—supernovae—six have been observed in Messier 61, a total that puts in second place alongside the galaxy known as Messier 83. (NGC 6946 wins first place with a grand total of nine observed supernovae.) In this Hubble image the galaxy is seen face-on. The vast arms are filled with bright blue regions where new stars are being formed from hot, dense clouds of gas.

Messier 61 is part of the Virgo Galaxy Cluster, a large group of galaxies in the constellation of Virgo (the Virgin). Galaxy clusters are among the biggest structures in the Universe that are held together by gravity alone. The Virgo Cluster contains more than 1300 galaxies and forms the central region of the Local Supercluster, an even bigger cluster of clusters.

Image Credit: NASA