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A Galactic Maelstrom
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Name: Messier 96, NGC 3368
Description: Spiral Galaxy
Position (J2000): RA 10h 46m 45.86s Dec 11° 49' 11.49"
Constellation: Leo
Distance: 35 million light years
Field of view: 2.73 x 2.79 arcminutes
Orientation: North is 0.0° left of vertical
Image Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA & the LEGUS Team, Ack: R. Gendler
Release date: August 31, 2015

   2011 image
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This new NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope shows Messier 96, a spiral galaxy just over 35 million light-years away in the constellation of Leo (The Lion). It is of about the same mass and size as the Milky Way. It was first discovered by astronomer Pierre Méchain in 1781, and added to Charles Messier's famous catalogue of astronomical objects just four days later.

The galaxy resembles a giant maelstrom of glowing gas, rippled with dark dust that swirls inwards towards the nucleus. Messier 96 is a very asymmetric galaxy; its dust and gas is unevenly spread throughout its weak spiral arms, and its core is not exactly at the galactic center. Its arms are also asymmetrical, thought to have been influenced by the gravitational pull of other galaxies within the same group as Messier 96.

This group, named the M96 Group, also includes the bright galaxies Messier 105 and Messier 95, as well as a number of smaller and fainter galaxies. It is the nearest group containing both bright spirals and a bright elliptical galaxy (Messier 105).