virgo galaxy cluster

Markarian’s Chain to Messier 64

Image Credit & Copyright: Rogelio Bernal Andreo (Deep Sky Colors)

Top to bottom, this colorful and broad telescopic mosaic links Markarian’s Chain of galaxies across the core of the Virgo Cluster to dusty spiral galaxy Messier 64. Galaxies are scattered through the field of view that spans some 20 full moons across a gorgeous night sky. The cosmic frame is also…

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M89: Elliptical Galaxy with Outer Shells and Plumes : Can you see them? This famous Messier object M89, a seemingly simple elliptical galaxy, is surrounded by faint shells and plumes. The cause of the shells is currently unknown, but possibly tidal tails related to debris left over from absorbing numerous small galaxies in the past billion years. Alternatively the shells may be like ripples in a pond, where a recent collision with another large galaxy created density waves that ripple through this galactic giant. Regardless of the actual cause, the featured image highlights the increasing consensus that at least some elliptical galaxies have formed in the recent past, and that the outer halos of most large galaxies are not really smooth but have complexities induced by frequent interactions with – and accretions of – smaller nearby galaxies. The halo of our own Milky Way Galaxy is one example of such unexpected complexity. M89 is a member of the nearby Virgo cluster of galaxies which lies about 50 million light years distant. via NASA

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In the Heart of the Virgo Cluster : The Virgo Cluster of Galaxies is the closest cluster of galaxies to our Milky Way Galaxy. The Virgo Cluster is so close that it spans more than 5 degrees on the sky - about 10 times the angle made by a full Moon. With its heart lying about 70 million light years distant, the Virgo Cluster is the nearest cluster of galaxies, contains over 2,000 galaxies, and has a noticeable gravitational pull on the galaxies of the Local Group of Galaxies surrounding our Milky Way Galaxy. The cluster contains not only galaxies filled with stars but also gas so hot it glows in X-rays. Motions of galaxies in and around clusters indicate that they contain more dark matter than any visible matter we can see. Pictured above, the heart of the Virgo Cluster includes bright Messier galaxies such as Markarians Eyes on the upper left, M86 just to the upper right of center, M84 on the far right, as well as spiral galaxy NGC 4388 at the bottom right. via NASA

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Can you see them? This famous Messier object M89, a seemingly simple elliptical galaxy, is surrounded by faint shells and plumes. The cause of the shells is currently unknown, but possibly tidal tails related to debris left over from absorbing numerous small galaxies in the past billion years. Alternatively the shells may be like ripples in a pond, where a recent collision with another large galaxy created density waves that ripple through this galactic giant. Regardless of the actual cause, the featured image highlights the increasing consensus that at least some elliptical galaxies have formed in the recent past, and that the outer halos of most large galaxies are not really smooth but have complexities induced by frequent interactions with – and accretions of – smaller nearby galaxies. The halo of our own Milky Way Galaxy is one example of such unexpected complexity. M89 is a member of the nearby Virgo cluster of galaxies which lies about 50 million light years distant.

Image Credit & Copyright: Mark Hanson

In the Heart of the Virgo Cluster : The Virgo Cluster of Galaxies is the closest cluster of galaxies to our Milky Way Galaxy. The Virgo Cluster is so close that it spans more than 5 degrees on the sky - about 10 times the angle made by a full Moon. With its heart lying about 70 million light years distant, the Virgo Cluster is the nearest cluster of galaxies, contains over 2,000 galaxies, and has a noticeable gravitational pull on the galaxies of the Local Group of Galaxies surrounding our Milky Way Galaxy. The cluster contains not only galaxies filled with stars but also gas so hot it glows in X-rays. Motions of galaxies in and around clusters indicate that they contain more dark matter than any visible matter we can see. Pictured above, the heart of the Virgo Cluster includes bright Messier galaxies such as Markarians Eyes on the upper left, M86 just to the upper right of center, M84 on the far right, as well as spiral galaxy NGC 4388 at the bottom right. via NASA

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Virgo Cluster Galaxies : Well over a thousand galaxies are known members of the Virgo Cluster, the closest large cluster of galaxies to our own local group. In fact, the galaxy cluster is difficult to appreciate all at once because it covers such a large area on the sky. This careful wide-field mosaic of telescopic images clearly records the central region of the Virgo Cluster through faint foreground dust clouds lingering above the plane of our own Milky Way galaxy. The clusters dominant giant elliptical galaxy M87, is just below and to the left of the frame center. To the right of M87 is a string of galaxies known as Markarians Chain. A closer examination of the image will reveal many Virgo cluster member galaxies as small fuzzy patches. Sliding your cursor over the image will label the larger galaxies using NGC catalog designations. Galaxies are also shown with Messier catalog numbers, including M84, M86, and prominent colorful spirals M88, M90, and M91. On average, Virgo Cluster galaxies are measured to be about 48 million light-years away. The Virgo Cluster distance has been used to give an important determination of the Hubble Constant and the scale of the Universe. via NASA

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A supermassive black hole in the nucleus of the galaxy M87 (the biggest galaxy in the Virgo Cluster, 55 million light years from us).

The jet shoots out of the hot plasma region surrounding the black hole (top left) and we can see it streaming down across the galaxy, over a distance of 6,000 light-years. The white/purple light of the jet in this stunning image is produced by the stream of electrons spiralling around magnetic field lines at a speed of approximately 98% of the speed of light.

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The Special Ingredients…of Earth!

With its blue skies, puffy white clouds, warm beaches and abundant life, planet Earth is a pretty special place. A quick survey of the solar system reveals nothing else like it. But how special is Earth, really?

One way to find out is to look for other worlds like ours elsewhere in the galaxy. Astronomers using our Kepler Space Telescope and other observatories have been doing just that! 

In recent years they’ve been finding other planets increasingly similar to Earth, but still none that appear as hospitable as our home world. For those researchers, the search goes on.

Another group of researchers have taken on an entirely different approach. Instead of looking for Earth-like planets, they’ve been looking for Earth-like ingredients. Consider the following:

Our planet is rich in elements such as carbon, oxygen, iron, magnesium, silicon and sulfur…the stuff of rocks, air, oceans and life. Are these elements widespread elsewhere in the universe? 

To find out, a team of astronomers led by the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), with our participation, used Suzaku. This Japanese X-ray satellite was used to survey a cluster of galaxies located in the direction of the constellation Virgo.

The Virgo cluster is a massive swarm of more than 2,000 galaxies, many similar in appearance to our own Milky Way, located about 54 million light years away. The space between the member galaxies is filled with a diffuse gas, so hot that it glows in X-rays. Instruments onboard Suzaku were able to look at that gas and determine which elements it’s made of.

Reporting their findings in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, they reported findings of iron, magnesium, silicon and sulfur throughout the Virgo galaxy cluster. The elemental ratios are constant throughout the entire volume of the cluster, and roughly consistent with the composition of the sun and most of the stars in our own galaxy.

When the Universe was born in the Big Bang 13.8 billon years ago, elements heavier than carbon were rare. These elements are present today, mainly because of supernova explosions. 

Massive stars cook elements such as, carbon, oxygen, iron, magnesium, silicon and sulfur in their hot cores and then spew them far and wide when the stars explode.

According to the observations of Suzaku, the ingredients for making sun-like stars and Earth-like planets have been scattered far and wide by these explosions. Indeed, they appear to be widespread in the cosmos. The elements so important to life on Earth are available on average and in similar relative proportions throughout the bulk of the universe. In other words, the chemical requirements for life are common.

Earth is still special, but according to Suzaku, there might be other special places too. Suzaku recently completed its highly successful mission.

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i was just talking to my friend about the virgo cluster galaxies and how it consists of over a thousand galaxies and my friend, he says: we are grossly insignificant, in some ways. and i replied: in every way. then he says to me: but anthea, i’d like to think that complex life like ours isn’t abundant in the universe so we are special, in some ways. 

The Sombrero Galaxy in Infrared
One of the largest galaxies in the nearby Virgo Cluster of Galaxies. The dark band of dust that obscures the mid-section of the Sombrero Galaxy in optical light actually glows brightly in infrared light. The above image, digitally sharpened, shows the infrared glow, recently recorded by the orbiting Spitzer Space Telescope, superposed in false-color on an existing image taken by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope in optical light. The Sombrero Galaxy, also known as M104, spans about 50,000 light years across and lies 28 million light years away. M104 can be seen with a small telescope in the direction of the constellation Virgo.

Credit: R. Kennicutt (Steward Obs.) et al., SSC, JPL, Caltech, NASA