Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Discover the Wonders of Messier 87: A Supergiant Elliptical Galaxy in Virgo

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Messier 87 (M87), also known as Virgo A and NGC 4486, is a remarkable elliptical galaxy situated 57.5 million light-years away in the Virgo constellation. Discovered by Johann Koehler on May 5, 1779, M87 is considered a supergiant elliptical galaxy, making it one of the largest and most massive galaxies in the local universe.

In comparison to the Milky Way, which has approximately 150-200 orbiting globular clusters, M87 astounds astronomers with its estimated 15,000 globular clusters. The galaxy's heart houses one of the most massive central black holes ever discovered. Observations with the Event Horizon Telescope reveal a mind-boggling mass of 6.5 billion solar masses.

Surrounding the black hole is a rotating disk of ionized gas, measuring 25,000 astronomical units (AU) in diameter and spinning at around 1,000 km/sec. The black hole's Schwarzschild radius is an impressive 120 AU. A jet emerging from the core stretches nearly 5,000 light-years, positioned perpendicularly to the disk.

Captivating images of M87 are available thanks to the Spitzer Space Telescope. Using broadband filters centered at 3.6 µm (blue), 4.5 µm (green), and 8.0 µm (red), a composite infrared image showcases M87's stellar population and the distribution of dust. The first inset image displays the jet originating from the central black hole, with a striking shockwave created by the jet (seen as a C-shaped structure on the left). The second inset image features the central black hole's disk within M87, as captured by the Event Horizon Telescope.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/IPAC

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