Majestic on a truly cosmic scale, M100 is appropriately known as a
grand design spiral galaxy. It is a large galaxy of over 100 billion stars with well-defined spiral arms that is similar to our own Milky Way Galaxy. One of the brightest members of the Virgo Cluster of galaxies, M100 (alias NGC 4321) is 56 million light-years distant toward the constellation of Berenice's Hair ( Coma Berenices). This Hubble Space Telescope image of M100 was made in 2009 and reveals bright blue star clusters and intricate winding dust lanes which are hallmarks of this class of galaxies. Studies of variable stars in M100 have played an important role in determining the size and age of the Universe. If you know exactly where to look, you can find a small spot that is a light echo from a bright supernova that was recorded a few years before the image was taken.
These two mighty galaxies are pulling each other apart. Known as the "
Mice" because they have such long tails, each spiral galaxy has likely already passed through the other. The long tails are created by the relative difference between gravitational pulls on the near and far parts of each galaxy. Because the distances are so large, the cosmic interaction takes place in slow motion -- over hundreds of millions of years. NGC 4676 lies about 300 million light-years away toward the constellation of Bernice's Hair ( Coma Berenices) and are likely members of the Coma Cluster of Galaxies. The above picture was taken with the Hubble Space Telescope's Advanced Camera for Surveys in 2002. These galactic mice will probably collide again and again over the next billion years until they coalesce to form a single galaxy.
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.
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