The Beautifully Twisted M106

Photo Credit: NASA/ESA Hubble, Hubble Heritage team, Robert Gendler.

Located relatively close (for a galaxy) at 23.5 million light years away in the constellation Canes Venatici, is this beautiful yet oddly shaped spiral galaxy named Messier 106 (M106). At first glance, it seems like any other spiral galaxy in the universe, but when you examine it closely (as in the photo provided) you can begin to get a feeling that not all is what it seems.

In this image you see the typical yet beautiful structure of a grand spiral galaxy. The yellowish hue in the core region; a telltale signature of the ancient stars that reside there while the youthful vibrant stars show up as the beautiful vast blue arms rotating all the way out to the edge of the galaxy. Strewn among the arms are the pink furnaces of star forming regions and the star forming fuel in the form of thick dust lanes still waiting to be recycled into new stars.

It’s near the core or nucleus where we begin to see the discrepancy here, as there are two sweeping vast, high rising filament arms of glowing hydrogen gas (shown here in red/pink) rising out of the core region of the galaxy. The cause of this odd feature is actually quite violent. At the center of M106 lies a hungry supermassive black hole that’s devouring the in falling gas at a rapid rate. You may be thinking to yourself that, “Hey every spiral galaxy likely has a supermassive black hole at its center doesn’t it?” and you would be correct in your thought process. Our own Milky Way Galaxy for example, has a supermassive black hole about 4 million times more massive than our Sun and for the moment lies quiet, like a spider waiting for a fly to enter its web so it can begin feeding.

The monster tearing through the core of M106 however is estimated to be about 30 million times the mass of our sun and is feeding at an astonishing rate. As the black hole eats, it fires incredible jets of energy which interacts with the hydrogen and excites it, giving it its unusual color as it rides the strong magnetic fields streaming away from the hot accretion disk at the entrance to the black hole itself.

Another question arises…..why then, are the cosmic jets not firing straight “up” with respect to the plane of the galaxy? The answer to that appears to be that the accretion disk of the black hole itself is tilted relative to the galactic plane and this fires the jets off at about 30 degrees and as they encounter the material of the galaxy they heat and gain a slight spiral bend to their arms.

Name: M106, Messier-106 or NGC 4258.

What is it? : Seyfert II – Grand Spiral Galaxy.

How big is it? : About 100,000 light years in diameter.

How far away is it? : About 23.5 million light years.

Where is it? (General): Constellation Canes Venatici

Where is it? (Exact RA/Dec J2000): RA: 12h, 18m, 57s / DEC: +47deg, 18’ 16”

Robert Gendler Astrophotography:

NASA Page on M106:

NASA Hubblesite M106:

NASA Hubble Heritage Project M106:

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