• Galaxy M106 print

Galaxy M106

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Pierre Méchain discovered Messier 106 in 1781, and at a distance of about 22-25 million lightyears away from Earth, is one of the largest and brightest nearby galaxies. Similar in size and luminosity to the Andromeda Galaxy, it has become an important reference point in determining cosmic distance scale.

It has a distinctive S-shape, formed by its spiral arms and dazzling nucleus. The galaxy is known for its two extra spiral arms, formed by the gas that the central black hole is blasting out of the galactic plane. These spiral arms have been shaped by the enormous shockwaves caused by the jets emanating from the supermassive black hole at the centre of the galaxy. However, this one is particularly active, unlike the black hole at the centre of the Milky Way, which pulls in wisps of gas only occasionally.

These shockwaves are heating up a large reservoir of gas, equal in mass to 10 million Suns, and composed mostly of hydrogen molecules, are believed to be caused by powerful jets of energy generated by the central black hole as it strikes the galaxy’s disk.

The dense disk is doing something truly remarkable, and unusual, in that it emits a very special type of microwave radiation (called a megamaser). Just as a common laser results in light emitted by stimulating the atoms, the same process can cause atoms to emit light in the microwave band, creating a laser-like effect. Most amazingly all this happens quite naturally!

60% of the gas in the central part of the galaxy has already gone, resulting in the formation of new stars at a rate one-tenth that of the Milky Way. Ultimately, this will cause Messier 106 to metamorphose from a spiral galaxy into a lenticular galaxy, filled with mostly old red stars with no identifiable spiral arms, so, essentially it will inevitably become a flat disk.

Receding from us at nearly 500 km/sec (that’s over 1,100,000 mph), this galaxy will continue to disappear from view as the Universe expands. However, Messier 106 will still be beautiful in a million years.

Maybe our descendants will look at it in the night sky on that date and think then as we think now!

Pigment inks on 271gsm satin paper, professionally hand-bonded onto a 5mm cast acrylic panel. Currently available in two sizes:

  • 24″ (w) × 15″ (h)
  • 12″ (w) × 7.5″ (h)

Each acrylic print comes ready to hang.

FREE delivery.

Credit: NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), and R. Gendler (for the Hubble Heritage Team)

Acknowledgment: J. GaBany