Messier 87 (NGC 4486), its globular clusters and jet
AAO image reference AAT 53.    « Previous || Next »

Messier 87 (NGC 4486) and its globular clusters in the Virgo cluster, M87.jpg
Top left is NE. Image width is about 6 arc min
Image and text © 1987-2010, Australian Astronomical Observatory, photograph by David Malin.

Messier 87 (NGC 4486) lies near the centre of the nearby cluster of galaxies in Virgo at a distance of about 50 million light years. Although the physical boundaries of elliptical galaxies are not well defined, (see deep image) their mass can be, and by any standards M87 is enormous. It contains several thousand billion stars. Associated with this giant galaxy are large numbers of globular clusters, visible in this photograph as the cloud of slightly fuzzy objects around it.

Like all ellipticals, M 87 is composed mainly of old stars and is largely devoid of the materials needed to make new ones. The galaxy is not inert however; high energy X-rays have been detected from an extensive outer halo and the galaxy itself is also known as Virgo A, the strongest radio source in the Virgo cluster, which emerges as a jet to the north-west (upper right) of the galaxy. The optical counterpart of the jet is just visible against the glow of the galaxy itself. The source for this extreme behavior is probably a massive black hole at the centre of the galaxy.

Related Images
AAT 60 .    A giant elliptical galaxy, Messier 87 in Virgo
UKS 31.    M84, M86 and M87, and Markarian's Chain in Virgo
n4486_d    NGC 4486 (M87), deep image
Constellation of Virgo (external site)

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Updated by David Malin, 2010, August 1