M61, one of the largest members of the Virgo cluster of galaxies, is well positioned for amateurs in the evening sky, a face-on spiral that features a hidden, 5-million solar-mass black hole in its luminous core. It was first observed in 1779 and remains a popular target for Earth- and space-based telescopes. This spectacular image combines data from the Hubble Space Telescope and the FORS camera on the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope, revealing an unprecedented wealth of detail. Located more than 52 million light years from Earth, M61 is formally classified as an intermediate barred spiral. It’s also a prodigious starburst galaxy with brilliant ruby-red patches of recent star formation. Remarkably, eight supernovae have been spotted in M61 since the first was noted in 1926.
An international team of astronomers led by Ivan Zolotukhin from Lomonosov Moscow State University is close to understanding one of the most important mysteries of modern astronomy — so-called intermediate-mass black holes. The researchers acknowledge the invaluable assistance of volunteer Russian computer programmers in the search.
A composite image from the Hubble Space Telescope shows a dramatic range of color in galaxy NGC 3344, a weakly barred spiral half the size of the Milky Way some 20 million light years away in the constellation Leo Minor. Hot young stars, seen in blue, populate the spiral arms along with glowing red clouds of gas and dust that provide the raw materials for new suns.