The spiral galaxy M61, mistaken for a comet by Charles Messier in 1779, is an anchor tenant of the Virgo galaxy cluster, a beehive of star birth with a massive nuclear cluster and a supermassive 5-million-solar-mass black hole at its core. It is classified as a starburst galaxy with an active galactic nucleus. One of the largest members of the Virgo Cluster, an assembly of more than a thousand galaxies that, in turn, is part of the Virgo Supercluster, M61 is easily visible in amateur instruments despite its 50 million light year distance. But the galaxy’s full glory is revealed in larger instruments, like this shot captured by the European Southern Observatory in 2019.
Dark smudges almost block out a rich star field in this new image of the Coalsack Nebula captured by the 2.2-metre telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile. This huge, dusky object forms a conspicuous silhouette against the bright, starry band of the Milky Way and has been known to people in the Southern Hemisphere for as long as our species has existed.