M64 – The Black Eye Galaxy
M64, the Black Eye Galaxy is also known as the Sleeping Beauty Galaxy or the Evil Eye Galaxy. There are a couple of interesting things about this spiral galaxy that lies approximately 17 million light-years away from Earth.
The first thing you notice about the Black Eye Galaxy is the stunning band of light absorbing dust in front of the very bright galactic nucleus. It is this dark band that gives the galaxy it’s name.
If the dark band isn’t cool enough, scientists have learned that interstellar gas in the outer regions of M64 is moving in the opposite direction from the gas and stars in closer to the center of the galaxy. Something like this shouldn’t happen! The inner region is only about 3,000 light-years across and the outer region is about 40,000 light-years across. New stars can be seen forming in the area where the two regions meet.
It turns out that all of this craziness was caused by a galactic collision! About a billion years ago, M64 ran into and absorbed a smaller satellite galaxy. This galaxy has almost been completely destroyed. The only things left are the dark dust band and the backward rotating outer region.
M64 is a favorite with amateur astronomers because it can be seen with a relatively small telescope and is easily found in the constellation Coma Berenices.
Image Credit: NASA and the Hubble Heritage Team (AURA/STScl)