Hats off to the Sombrero Galaxy

By Alice Orszulok

The galaxy named after a Mexican hat captured by the Hubble Space Telescope

Described as the most photogenic of galaxies, the Sombrero galaxy looks more or less like a broad-brimmed Mexican hat floating in space. Thick dust rings make up the galaxy’s brim, which winds into the brilliant white centre made up of a central bulge of billions of older stars ranging from 10 to 13 billion years old.

Closer inspection shows that these stars are actually part of their own groups, also known as globular clusters. These clusters  are what causes the bright glow in the middle of the galaxy and are very similar to those in the middle of our own Milky Way. Astronomers estimate there are nearly 2,000 of these clusters—10 times as many as those that orbit our galaxy.

The hat-shaped galaxy contains several hundred billion stars, about 100 times as many stars as there are people today on Earth. It is so bright, it lies just beyond the limit of naked-eye visibility, but can easily be seen through a small telescopes. Edge to edge, the Sombrero is 60,000 light-years across, slightly smaller than the Milky Way.

This pretty galaxy can be found about 30 million light-years away from Earth at the southern edge of the constellation, or cluster of galaxies, called Virgo.

Source: [NASA/ESA]