Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

September 11, 1996

In the Center of Spiral M77
Credit: D. Macchetto (ESA, StScI), W. Sparks, A. Capetti (StScI) et al., FOC, HST, NASA

Explanation: What is happening in the center of nearby spiral galaxy M77? To find out, astronomers used the Hubble Space Telescope to peer deep into the dusty chaos of this active galactic nucleus in 1994. They found a network of filamentary gas and opaque dust that provides only clues as to what central monster had left this mess. Due to the presence of hot ionized gas clouds near the core, changes in brightness that can take less than a week, and the ultraviolet halo surrounding the whole galaxy, the leading hypothesis is that a supermassive black hole lies at the center of this Seyfert Type 2 galaxy. Also known as NGC 1068, this galaxy lies only about 50 million light years distant and is visible with only a small telescope.

Tomorrow's picture: Mercury: A Cratered Inferno

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