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.

December 5, 1995

The Swirling Centre of NGC 4261
Credit: NASA, HST, H. Ford and L. Ferrarese, (Johns Hopkins), W. Jaffe, (Leiden)

Explanation: What evil lurks in the hearts of galaxies? The above picture by the Hubble Space Telescope of the centre of the nearby galaxy NGC 4261 tells us one dramatic tale. Here gas and dust are seen swirling near this elliptical galaxy's centre into what is almost certainly a massive black hole. The disk is probably what remains of a smaller galaxy that fell in hundreds of millions of years ago. Collisions like this may be a common way of creating such active galactic nuclei as quasars. Strangely, the centre of this fiery whirlpool is offset from the exact centre of the galaxy - for a reason that for now remains an astronomical mystery.

Tomorrow's picture: 24 Hours from Jupiter

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Authors & editors: Robert Nemiroff (MTU) & Jerry Bonnell (USRA)
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&: Michigan Tech. U.