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Messier 89, NGC 4552
RA 12h 35m 40.87s Dec 12° 34' 1.26"
55 million light-years
5.1 x 4.7 arcmin
2.37 x 1.78 arcminutes
North is 129.5° left of vertical
ESA/Hubble & NASA, S. Faber et al.
January 14, 2019
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ABOUT THIS IMAGE:
This huge ball of stars - around 100 billion in total - is an elliptical galaxy located some 55 million light-years away from us. Known as Messier 89, this galaxy appears to be perfectly spherical; this is unusual for elliptical galaxies, which tend to be elongated ellipsoids. The apparently spherical nature of Messier 89 could, however, be a trick of perspective, and be caused by its orientation relative to the Earth.
Messier 89 is slightly smaller than the Milky Way, but has a few interesting features that stretch far out into the surrounding space. One structure of gas and dust extends up to 150,000 light-years out from the galaxy's center, which is known to house a supermassive black hole. Jets of heated particles reach out to 100,000 light-years from the galaxy, suggesting that Messier 89 may have once been far more active - perhaps an active quasar or radio galaxy - than it is now. It is also surrounded by an extensive system of shells and plumes, which may have been caused by past mergers with smaller galaxies - and implies that Messier 89 as we know it may have formed in the relatively recent past.
89 was discovered by astronomer Charles Messier on March 18, 1781, when
Messier had been cataloguing astronomical objects for 23 years - ever
since he mistook a faint object in the sky for Halley's Comet. Upon closer
inspection, he realized the object was actually the Crab Nebula. To prevent
other astronomers from making the same error, he decided to catalogue
all the bright, deep-sky objects that could potentially be mistaken for
comets. His methodical observations of the night sky led to the first
comprehensive catalogue of astronomical objects: the Messier catalogue!
Messier 89 holds the record for being the last ever giant elliptical to
be found by Messier, and the most perfectly spherical galaxy in the entire
catalogue of 110 objects.