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The Sombrero Galaxy, M104, or NGC 4594

The Sombrero Galaxy - 3 trillion stars

The Sombrero Galaxy, M104, NASA Hubble Space Telescope image, released 10/2/2003.



Charles Messier described the above object as a "very faint cloud" when he added it to his list in 1781. M104 thus became the 104th entry in his famous catalog of nebulae (Greek for clouds). 18th and 19th-century astronomers often construed galaxies as clouds because their telescopes couldn’t resolve them into their component stars.

Three trillion stars are in the Sombrero Galaxy shown above. It is so large (82,000 light years in diameter) that the tiniest possible dot in this photograph would be 10,000 times larger than our entire solar system! X-ray emissions from objects falling into the Sombrero’s core suggest that a black hole one billion times the mass of our sun resides there.

The dark band crossing the center of the photograph is a lane of dust 600 quadrillion miles in diameter, rotating once every 250 million years around the galaxy’s core. It appears dark because it blocks the light of hotter stars behind it. If each of the stars in this immense spiral galaxy were a grain of sand, altogether they would fill a football field to a depth of six inches.

Light, which circles the Earth 8 times a second or travels to the Moon in just over a second, takes 28 million years to get here from the Sombrero Galaxy! The light that we see from it today and in this photo started here when dinosaurs roamed the Earth. It is so far away that if we were already at a place in space where it looked as large to our naked eye as it does in this photo, and we then sped towards it in our fastest rocket, after one million years of traveling towards it at that speed - it still wouldn’t look any larger!

Galaxies, like stars, also form groups. The Milky Way and the Andromeda Galaxy belong to such a group of 20 to 30 galaxies called the Local Group. And finally, clusters of galaxies group in clusters of clusters, called superclusters. Our Local Group is about 50 million light years from a supercluster of about 2000 galaxies called the Virgo Supercluster.

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