Astro-photographer Robert Gendler put together several photographs of the spiral galaxy M106 (Messier 106, also known as NGC 4258) taken over the years by the Hubble Space Telescope along with those made by him and another astro-photographer, Jay GaBany, to create one of the most remarkable astronomical images ever produced.
The central part of the galaxy M106 is composed of data taken from various instruments of the Hubble Space Telescope: the Advanced Camera for Surveys, the Wide Field Camera 3 and the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2. The outer arms used mainly Hubble data along with data from observations made by Robert Gendler and Jay GaBany’ ground-based telescopes in New Mexico.
The galaxy M106 was discovered in 1781 by Pierre Méchan and is about 23.5 million light-years away from Earth. It’s a Seyfert galaxy, a class of galaxies that emit spectral lines from highly ionized gas. The observations of M106 suggests that the supermassive black hole at its center is much more active than the one at the center of the Milky Way galaxy and part of the galaxy is falling into it.
The supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy M106 seems to be so active as to have indirectly caused the origin of two extra arms. Normally, the arms of a spiral galaxy contain stars and that’s also true for the two normal arms of M106. Instead, the two extra arms are composed of high temperature gas.
When the materials near the center of the galaxy M106 rush towards the supermassive black hole, they’re heated to very high temperatures. Also because of the immense magnetic field existing in the area, the consequence is that part of it is pushed away in a very violent way producing the two extra arms.
It’s no coincidence that the galaxy M106 was also studied using two other space telescopes: Spitzer, that makes observations in the infrared frequencies, and Chandra, that makes observations in the frequencies of the X-rays. The latter in particular are emitted in really violent events able to generate high energies and thus electromagnetic radiation of that type.
The mosaic composed by Robert Gendler is really extraordinary. The galaxy M106, one of the brightest spiral galaxies, is shown at its best in the resulting image. It’s one of the cases in which science and art blend to perfection.