NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) released this new Hubble image on Friday, September 4, 2015. It’s Messier 96 – called M96 by astronomers – a spiral galaxy just over 35 million light-years away in the direction of the constellation of Leo the Lion. It’s about the same mass and size as our home galaxy, the Milky Way.
Astronomer Pierre Méchain first discovered this galaxy in 1781, and Charles Messier added it to his famous catalog of astronomical objects just four days later. Hence its designation (Messier 96). ESA wrote in a statement:
The galaxy resembles a giant maelstrom of glowing gas, rippled with dark dust that swirls inwards towards the nucleus. Messier 96 is a very asymmetric galaxy; its dust and gas are unevenly spread throughout its weak spiral arms, and its core is not exactly at the galactic center. Its arms are also asymmetrical, thought to have been influenced by the gravitational pull of other galaxies within the same group as Messier 96.
This group, named the M96 Group, also includes the bright galaxies Messier 105 and Messier 95, as well as a number of smaller and fainter galaxies. It is the nearest group containing both bright spirals and a bright elliptical galaxy (Messier 105).
Bottom line: M96, or Messier 96, a spiral galaxy in a new Hubble Space Telescope image.
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.