The massive galaxy M87 is the most spectacular example of an elliptical galaxy we can see from Earth. The most fascinating feature of this galaxy is its jet, which is visible in optical light as well as x-rays and radio emissions.
The jet extends from the central supermassive black hole of the galaxy and reaches out about 5,000 light-years. As a true elliptical galaxy, M87 has no obvious dust lanes and very little evidence of star formation. It likely formed from a recent merger between two other galaxies.
Facts about M87
- The interstellar medium in M87 is filled with gas that has been enriched somewhat by materials from stars that died long ago. There is dust in the galaxy, but far less than the Milky Way contains.
- The black hole at M87’s heart has the mass of about 3.5 billion Suns. It is surrounded by a disk of material that is slowly funneling into the black hole, heated by the action of a jet that is moving at very high speed out from the black hole.
- It is possible that the core of M87 has more than one supermassive black hole.
- The nuclear region of M87 is known as an “active galactic nucleus” due to its brightness in visible, x-ray, radio, and other wavelengths of light.
- M87 is surrounded by a corona of hot gas.
- Not far from M87 is a collection of galaxies arrayed in a pair of “chain-like” structures called “Markarian’s Chain”. These are visible to amateur observers with good-sized telescopes.
- The first ever image captured of a black hole was of the one at the heart of M87:
Image – apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap100520.html