Giant galaxy turns out to be like a potato

For the first time, astronomers managed to determine the shape of one of the largest and closest elliptical galaxies to us, M87. It looks like a potato.

The image of M87 obtained by the Hubble telescope and its three-dimensional model. Source: NASA, ESA, Joseph Olmsted (STScI), Frank Summers (STScI), Chung-Pei Ma (UC Berkeley)

We live in a three-dimensional Universe. However, due to the huge distances when observed through a telescope, celestial objects appear flat, which complicates the determination of their true shape. Elliptical galaxies, which, unlike spiral galaxies, do not have a disk, cause especially great difficulties. Because of this, astronomers often have to use their intuition to understand what such objects actually look like.

However, the situation may change now. Thanks to the joint efforts of Hubble and the telescopes of the Keck Observatory in Hawaii, researchers were able to obtain a stereoscopic image of an elliptical galaxy for the first time. 

Astronomers chose M87. This is one of the brightest and most massive galaxies in the vicinity of the Milky Way. At its center is the famous black hole, which has a mass several billion times that of the sun. In 2019, astronomers managed to get a picture of it, which was recently improved with the help of artificial intelligence

To determine the shape of M87, astronomers measured the spectra and direction of motion of stars in a region with a diameter of about 70 thousand light-years around the black hole. This made it possible to map their distribution, which in turn made it possible to determine the shape of the galaxy. It turns out that it resembles a giant potato.

Data on the nature of the orbit of stars around the center of M87 also allowed scientists to clarify the mass of its black hole. It is 5.4 billion solar, which is about one billion less than previous estimates.

According to

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