The face-on spiral galaxy M61 is one of the largest members of the Virgo Cluster, an assembly of more than a thousand galaxies at the centre of the even more expansive Virgo Supercluster. Discovered in 1779 by Barnaba Oriani, just six days before Charles Messier realised it wasn’t a comet, M61 is a familiar target for professional and amateur astronomers alike, home to a supermassive black hole at the heart of a dense stellar nucleus. Located 50 million light years from the Milky Way in the constellation Virgo, the galaxy’s spiral arms are populated by billions of stars, the result of rapid star formation. This image was captured by the European Southern Observatory’s Cosmic Gems Programme.
M87 is a giant elliptical galaxy with a total mass more than a million million times that of the Sun that lies at the centre of the Virgo Cluster about 50 million light-years away. New observations with the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope have revealed the full extent of the galaxy’s cannibalistic nature.
Discovered in 1784 by William Herschel, NGC 4394 is the archetypal barred spiral galaxy, with bright spiral arms emerging from the ends of a bar that cuts through the galaxy’s central bulge. Some 55 million light-years from Earth, the galaxy lies in the constellation of Coma Berenices. NGC 4394 is considered to be a member of the Virgo Cluster.
NGC 4639 is a beautiful example of a type of galaxy known as a barred spiral. It lies over 70 million light-years away in the constellation of Virgo and is one of about 1500 galaxies that make up the Virgo Cluster. But NGC 4639 also conceals a dark secret in its core — a massive black hole that is consuming the surrounding gas and known as an active galactic nucleus (AGN).