NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has trained its sharp eye on one of the universe's most stately and photogenic galaxies, Messier 104. The galaxy's hallmark is a brilliant white, bulbous core encircled by the thick dust lanes comprising the spiral structure of the galaxy. As seen from Earth, the galaxy is tilted nearly edge-on. We view it from just six degrees north of its equatorial plane. This brilliant galaxy was named the Sombrero because in visible light it resembles a broad rimmed and high-topped Mexican hat.
M104 is just beyond the limit of the naked eye, but is easily seen through small telescopes. It lies at the southern edge of the rich Virgo cluster of galaxies. It is one of the most massive objects in that group, equivalent to 800 billion suns. The galaxy is 50,000 light-years across and is located 28 million light-years from Earth.
Hubble easily resolves M104's rich system of 2,000 globular clusters-believed to be 10 times as many as orbit our Milky Way galaxy. The ages of the clusters are similar to those of the clusters in the Milky Way, ranging from 10-13 billion years. A smaller disk is embedded in the bright core of M104, and is tilted relative to the large disk. X-ray emission hints that there is material falling into the compact core, where a black hole as massive as 1 billion suns resides.
The Hubble Heritage Team took these observations in May-June 2003 with the space telescope's advanced camera for surveys. Images were taken in three filters (red, green, and blue) to yield a natural-color image. The team took six pictures of the galaxy and then stitched them together to create the final composite image. This magnificent galaxy has a diameter that is nearly one-fifth the diameter of the full Moon.
For a view of this image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, see PIA07899.