The illuminated heart of the Galaxy M61 dominates this image, with its rolling spiral arms threaded with dark tendrils of dust. In addition to the usual bright bands of stars, the spiral arms of the M61 are interspersed with ruby-red patches of light. Speaking of recent star formation, these illuminated regions lead to the classification of M61 as the Starburst galaxy.
While the glittering spiral of this galaxy makes it spectacular, one of the most striking features of the M61 is that it hides the unseen in the centre of the image. As well as the vast pockets of star formation, the M61 hosts a supermassive black hole more than 5 million times larger than the Sun.
M611 appears almost face-to-face, making it a popular subject for astronomical imagery, although the galaxy is contained more than 52 million light-years from Earth. This particular astronomical image incorporates data not only from Hubble, but also from the force camera of a very large European Southern Observatory telescope, together with the M61 in unprecedented detail. This striking image is one example of telescope teamwork – astronomers often combine data from ground-based and space-based telescopes to learn more about the universe.
Discovered in 1779 by the Italian astronomer Barnabas Oriani, M61 is a forbidden spiral galaxy located in the Virgo constellation. Charles Messier noticed it the same night as Orani, but he mistaken the galaxy on a comet. A member of the Galaxy’s Vargo cluster, the M1 is about 55 million light-years from Earth and has a clear magnitude of 10.2. It is easily spotted by May and can be observed using a medium-sized telescope.
M61 is a type of galaxy known as the Starburst galaxy. Starburst galaxies experience an incredibly high rate of formation, with very little time (in astronomical terms) easily shaking them using their gas reservoir. But that’s not the only thing going on in the galaxy; An X-ray source has been detected deep inside his heart, which astronomers believe is a supermassive black hole sitting in its core. This galaxy is the host of seven observed supernovae – the most numerous in the Messier catalog.
This Hubble image of the M61 looks closely at the face structure of the galaxy, made from observations of visible and infrared wavelengths. The spiral arms are seen in striking detail, swirling inward to the very center of the galaxy, where they form a small, intensely bright spiral. In the outer regions, these huge arms are sprinkled with bright, blue regions where new stars are being formed from hot, dense cloud gas.
The stair-step appearance of the image results from the design of the camera used to receive exposures. The camera has four light detectors, one of which provided a higher resolution but its field of view was smaller than the other three. Since the detectors with higher resolution did not cover the region like the others, the black regions were omitted when the images obtained from the four detectors were combined into one image.