Messier 96 (M96), as seen by Hubble (Image Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA and the LEGUS Team (Acknowledgement: R. Gendler)

Really… what can you say? This incredible image would leave even the most well-versed stargazer with an overwhelming feeling of euphoria.

Called M96 (short for Messier 96), the featured galaxy is located around 35 million light-years from Earth toward the Leo constellation. It is roughly the same size as the Milky Way (between 100,000 and 120,000 light-years across), with roughly the same mass—meaning, it may have as many as 400 billion stars.

Otherwise known as NGC 3368, M96 is an intermediate spiral galaxy, but not your average, run-of-the-mill example. It has an asymmetric quality to it, which is apparent in this new image of its lopsided central core. Instead of residing in the dead center of the galaxy, it is offset a bit, and the disordered spiral arms weakly (and unevenly) sweep back and forth. Ultimately, these attributes suggest that M96 was recently disturbed by one of its neighbors.

Another view of Messier 96 (Image Credit: ESO/Oleg Maliy)

Since it is the “anchor” of the M96 group—a small cluster of at least 10 (maybe 20) galaxies, including Messier 95 and Messier 105—there are plenty of suspects. Perhaps no single galaxy is to blame, rather, the complex gravitational happenings within the group impact each of the galaxies in their own way.

Finally, although it was originally added to the Messier Catalog in 1781, it was not discovered by its namesake, Charles Messier. It was discovered by someone who may have worked with him closely, a French astronomer known as Pierre Méchain. (See a larger image here)


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