Image Credit & Copyright: NASA, ESA & A. van der Hoeven.
Messier 77 is a beautiful barred spiral galaxy almost twice the size of our Milky Way in the constellation Cetus, the Sea Monster. Of course at a distance of 45 million light years away, this is what the whirlpool looked like then, when here on Earth we were still in the Eocene era with no trace of humanity for a long time to come.
Today this object almost certainly looks different. Likely still a barred spiral with thick dust lanes and star formation, the red pockets where newborn stars are coming to life have all disappeared and new regions have taken the reigns. How many civilizatons are in theis image and how many are there today is a wonder to ponder. The pockets of star formation in this image are currently well on their way to planet formation and who knows, someday life. Some of the stars in this image are also no longer there, possibly talking the life of its inhabitants with it.
This galaxy also falls into the classification of “Type II Seyfert” which is a galaxy with an Active Galactic Nucleus (AGN) and a supermassive black hole with a mass of 15 million suns churning away at its core.
Though today this galaxy is one of the most studied in the night sky, it wasn’t always that way as before it was finally discovered to be a galaxy it spent some time as a nebula and a star cluster as well.
NAME: Messier 77, M77, NGC 1068.
WHAT IS IT?: Barred spiral, Type II Seyfert galaxy.
HOW BIG IS IT?: Nearly 200,000 light years in diameter or twice the size of the Milky Way.
HOW FAR AWAY IS IT?: 45 million light years.
DISCOVERY: Pierre Mechain on October 29, 1870.
APPARENT MAGNITUDE: Moderate 9.5.
WHERE IS IT? (General): Constellation Cetus (The Sea Monster).
WHERE IS IT? (Exact RA/DEC J2000): RA 2h 42m 40.7s / DEC −00° 00′ 48″.
ESA Space Telescope page for this image: http://www.spacetelescope.org/news/heic1305/
ESA Science page for this image: http://sci.esa.int/hubble/51591-hubble-observes-the-hidden-depths-of-messier-77/
NASA APOD page for this image: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap130510.html