Big, beautiful spiral galaxy NGC 7331 is often touted as an analog to our own Milky Way. About 50 million light-years distant in the northern constellation Pegasus, NGC 7331 was recognized early on as a spiral nebula and is actually one of the brighter galaxies not included in Charles Messier's famous 18th century catalog. Since the galaxy's disk is inclined to our line-of-sight, long telescopic exposures often result in an image that evokes a strong sense of depth. The effect is further enhanced in this sharp image from a small telescope by galaxies that lie beyond the gorgeous island universe.
This image, taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, shows the dusty structure encircling the center of the galaxy, forming a knotted ring around the galaxy's brightly glowing middle. Interestingly, this ring lies perpendicular to the plane of NGC 2768 itself, stretching up and out of the galaxy.
The galaxy has a diameter of around 100,000 light years, making it about the size of the Milky Way. Notably, six observed supernovae exist within Messier 61, placing it in a group of galaxies which includes Messier 83, also with six supernovae observed, and NGC 6946, having nine observed supernovae. Messier 61 makes up part of the Virgo Galaxy Cluster, a massive group of galaxies in the constellation of Virgo (the Virgin).
Although they look far apart, M31 and M33 are locked in a mutual gravitational embrace. Radio astronomers have found indications of a bridge of neutral hydrogen gas that could connect the two, evidence of a closer encounter in the past. Based on measurements, gravitational simulations currently predict that the Milky Way, M31, and M33 will all undergo mutual close encounters and potentially mergers, billions of years in the future.