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. Spiral Galaxy NGC 4261
Dust disk around a black hole in galaxy NGC 4261

(This press release from December 4, 1995, is reproduced courtesy of the Space Telescope Science Institute.)

This is a Hubble Space Telescope image of an 800-light-year-wide spiral-shaped disk of dust fueling a massive black hole in the center of galaxy, NGC 4261, located 100 million light-years away in the direction of the constellation Virgo.

By measuring the speed of gas swirling around the black hole, astronomers calculate that the object at the center of the disk is 1.2 billion times the mass of our Sun, yet concentrated into a region of space not much larger than our solar system.

The strikingly geometric disk -- which contains enough mass to make 100,000 stars like our Sun -- was first identified in Hubble observations made in 1992. These new Hubble images reveal for the first time structure in the disk, which may be produced by waves or instabilities in the disk.

Hubble also reveals that the disk and black hole are offset from the center of NGC 4261, implying some sort of dynamical interaction is taking place, that has yet to be fully explained.

Credit: L. Ferrarese (Johns Hopkins University) and NASA

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