News Release Archive:

News Release 951 of 1001

June 8, 1992 09:30 AM (EDT)

News Release Number: STScI-1992-17

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope Resolves a Dark "x" Across the Nucleus of M51


Image: "X" Structure at Core of Whirlpool Galaxy (M51)

"X" Structure at Core of Whirlpool Galaxy (M51)STScI-PRC1992-17

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This image of the core of the nearby spiral galaxy M51, taken with the Wide Field Planetary camera (in PC mode) on NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, shows a striking , dark "X" silhouetted across the galaxy's nucleus. The "X" is due to absorption by dust and marks the exact position of a black hole which may have a mass equivalent to one-million stars like the sun. The darkest bar may be an edge-on dust ring which is 100 light-years in diameter. The edge-on torus not only hides the black hole and accretion disk from being viewed directly from earth, but also determines the axis of a jet of high-speed plasma and confines radiation from the accretion disk to a pair of oppositely directed cones of light, which ionize gas caught in their beam. The second bar of the "X" could be a second disk seen edge on, or possibly rotating gas and dust in MS1 intersecting with the jets and ionization cones.

The size of the image is 1100 light-years.

Object Names: M51, Whirlpool Galaxy

Image Type: Astronomical

Credit: H. Ford (JHU/STScI), the Faint Object Spectrograph IDT, and NASA


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