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.

2013 October 4
See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download
 the highest resolution version available.

The Densest Galaxy
Credit: NASA, ESA, Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), Jay Strader (Michigan St. Univ.) et al.

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.

Note: How to find APOD Alternative Mirror Sites
Tomorrow's picture: light-weekend

< | Archive | Index | Search | Calendar | RSS | Education | About APOD | Discuss | >

Authors & editors: Robert Nemiroff (MTU) & Jerry Bonnell (UMCP)
NASA Official: Phillip Newman Specific rights apply.
NASA Web Privacy Policy and Important Notices
A service of: ASD at NASA / GSFC
& Michigan Tech. U.