Monday, January 23, 2023

M88, A SPIRAL IN THE CROWN

When Messier discovered this object in 1781 and included it in his famous catalog of non-stellar objects, he described it as a weak nebula with no stars. The instruments available to the French astronomer were obviously not as powerful as those we have today and could not therefore know that what he was observing was a galaxy similar to our Milky Way.


M88, that's his catalogue name, is a spiral galaxy visible in the constellation of the Berenice Crown. The galaxy is located in a star-free region at the boundary between this constellation and Virgo and is therefore difficult to identify. Moreover, appearing of tenth apparent magnitude, it can be seen only through a telescope.

M88 is 130,000 light years in size and has a mass of about 200 billion solar masses, making it slightly larger and more massive than the Milky Way. From Earth we see the galaxy almost face-to-face, which allows us to recognize in great detail its structure, with the core consisting of old yellow stars and spiral arms containing bands of brown dust and young blue stars.

According to the latest measurements, M88 is located within the Virgo Cluster 50 million light years away from Earth.

Credit: Adam Block, Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter, U. Arizona.

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