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.

May 5, 1996

Planet Near a Galaxy Core
Credit: J. Gitlin (Space Telescope Science Institute), NASA

Explanation: What would the night sky look like if you lived on a planet near the centre of a galaxy? Now imagine that this galaxy houses a black hole billions of times more massive than a star. From this spectacular vantage point, the sky might look like the above illustration. This drawing is based on recent observations of the centre of NGC 4261, made by the Hubble Space Telescope. Results indicate that a disk of dust 800-light years wide surrounds the black hole. The hypothetical planet depicted above lies within this disk. The black hole itself heats gas to white-hot temperatures, generating light that is reddened when reflected off the dust. Jets shoot off from the poles of the black hole, perpendicular to the disk. However, friction with the dust and gas would cause planets near the black hole to spiral in and disappear forever. NASA has recently announced a new initiative to search for Earth-like planets in our Galaxy.

Tomorrow's picture: Southern Lights and Shuttle Glow

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Authors & editors: Robert Nemiroff (MTU) & Jerry Bonnell (USRA)
NASA Technical Rep.: Jay Norris. Specific rights apply.
A service of: LHEA at NASA/ GSFC
&: Michigan Tech. U.