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The Sombrero Galaxy (A Hat in the Sky)

Approximately 29 million light years away, in the constellation Virgo, lies an absolutely spectacular sight, the Sombrero Galaxy (M104 or NGC 4594). This unbarred spiral galaxy seen almost edge-on with its dark, enclosing ring, arced central bulge and bright nucleus, does indeed resemble a Sombrero.

Photo Credit: NASA/ESA and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

The dark band that looks like the brim of a Sombrero is a dust lane, consisting mostly of hydrogen gas and dust. The majority of star formations in the galaxy occur within this circle of matter.

With an apparent relatively bright magnitude of between +8.0 and +9.0, a small telescope (4-inch) is needed to view the galaxy; it is a bit too dim to be seen with the naked eye. A pair of good quality 7x35 binoculars should reveal some of the features of this hat-shaped galaxy. A large telescope is required for seeing the dark band of the dust lane.

Although discovered by French astronomer Pierre François André Méchain in March of 1767, the Sombrero Galaxy was not added to Messier's official list until 1921. Charles Messier had made a hand-written note regarding this discovery but it was Nicolas Camille Flammarion, who upon finding Messier's personal list, ultimately saw to the galaxy being included in the Messier Catalogue.

A supermassive black hole has been detected by astronomers in the core of the Sombrero Galaxy, calculated at a mass of more than 1 billion suns, making the Sombrero's black hole one of the most massive that has been measured within any of the nearby galaxies.

For Help Locating This Object in the Sky: Use the Interactive Messier Map in the upper right hand corner. Objects are listed numerically. Click on the object you wish to locate (ex. The Crab Nebula is M1) and a map will be displayed showing that object's location.

Author Resource: Written by Starr Hendon


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