This week Hal tells us about M104, otherwise known as the Sombrero Galaxy.
Regular listeners to Looking Up may recall my earlier comments regarding objects in the night sky that make you say Wow. Sometimes that wow comes from the intrinsic beauty of the thing, and sometimes from the realization of what a remarkable thing you are looking at scientifically.
In the case of the Sombrero Galaxy, you’ll be saying wow for both reasons. Its beauty is undeniable. The Sombrero Galaxy is a spiral galaxy, in the shape of the pinwheel, much like our own Milky Way. We see it mostly from the side, and when viewed through a telescope, the Galaxy shows a bright central core of old stars. But what makes the Sombrero Galaxy so gorgeous is a thick, dark band of dust going around the edge. This dark band is so dramatic that it makes the Sombrero Galaxy look like, well, a Sombrero. I think it’s one of the most beautiful objects in the sky.
But it is also remarkable scientifically. It’s about 30% smaller than the Milky Way, and contains about 100 billion stars. Astronomers have determined that the large central bulge of stars is largely made up of old stars. In addition, there appear to be about 2000 globular clusters, which are tight globs of stars, very close together, in the central core. This is remarkable, because our much larger Galaxy contains less than 200 such globular clusters. Why does the Sombrero Galaxy have so many? We don’t know.
And t he dark and beautiful dust lanes are filled with new stars being born, and shining brightly. So it appears the Sombrero Galaxy has old stars in the middle and baby stars out on the edges.
And it’s on the move, fast. Measurements have shown that the Sombrero galaxy is moving through space at nearly 2 and half million miles an hour. Pretty impressive for something that looks like a hat.
If you’d like to take a closer look at the Sombrero Galaxy, or any of the other wonderful and amazing things in the sky, please visit KRCC.org or CSASTRO.org for a link to information on our monthly meetings and our free public star parties!
This is Hal Bidlack for the Colorado Springs Astronomical Society, telling you to keep looking up, Southern Colorado!