Messier 77 Galaxy Is Universe’s Most Beautiful

The Messier 77 galaxy, a spiral galaxy about 45 million light-years away located in the constellation of Cetus, is hereby declared to be the most beautiful galaxy in the known universe. Check out the new photograph released today by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. If that doesn’t knock your socks off, what will?

There’s an interesting story behind the photo. Yes, it takes the Hubble to grab the photograph, but this image was first found and processed as a result of the Hubble Hidden Treasures program. The Hubble has already taken a million photographs since it went live in 1990, and many of the photos have never been seen by the public. In 2012, the Hubble website issued a challenge for astronomy hobbyists to search the images and process the most beautiful.

Dutch contestant André van der Hoeven won second place in the contest by finding and creating a version of this image. Wow. Only second?

Beautiful Messier 77 is a Seyfert galaxy, which is a story in itself. Seyferts represent about 10 percent of known galaxies, and they shine very energetically, probably because of a black hole in their center pulling in radiation which heats up the surrounding gas.

According to the photo press release, the black hole at the core of Messier 77 is 15 million times as massive as our sun.

It’s also worth taking a closer look at the spiral arms. Dotted here and there you can see bright red clumps which represent areas where young stars are being born.

By the way, Messier 77 gets its name from the Messier catalog, probably the first comprehensive catalog of beautiful objects in our night sky. It was first published in 1771 by Charles Messier, a frustrated comet-hunter who was tired of finding fuzzy items in his primitive telescope that weren’t comets.

So we puny earthlings have known about the existence of the galaxy for a long time. We just didn’t know what it really was until Carl Keenan Seyfert figured it out in the 1940s.

There are definitely some incredible astronomical objects in our sky. Last week’s release of two gorgeous supernova photos was also impressive.

But the Messier 77 galaxy may be the most beautiful of them all.

[NASA, ESA & A. van der Hoeven]

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