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The majestic Sombrero Galaxy M104 captured in an astrophoto by Richard Harris

The Sombrero Galaxy M104 by Richard Harris

M104 – Sombrero Galaxy, discovered in the late 18th century astrophoto from the remotely operated Chile 24" PlaneWave telescope by Richard Harris.

The Sombrero Galaxy gets its name because of its bright nucleus, large central bulge, and spiral arms, which make it resemble a sombrero hat. It's located approximately 28 million light-years away from Earth in the constellation Virgo.

It was discovered in the late 18th century by Pierre Méchain, a French astronomer, and later added to Charles Messier's famous catalog as the 104th entry - hence (M104).

The galaxy's nucleus is exceptionally bright, and it's believed to house a supermassive black hole that's about a billion times the mass of our Sun. It has a much higher number of globular clusters than our Milky Way. Estimates suggest it might have around 2,000 globular clusters, while the Milky Way has about 150-200.

One of the most striking features of the Sombrero Galaxy is the dark dust lane that encircles its bright nucleus. This dust lane is where new stars are being born.

The galaxy emits strong X-ray radiation, which is believed to be due to the supermassive black hole at its center as well as binary star systems where one of the stars has reached the end of its life.

The Sombrero Galaxy spans about 50,000 light-years across, which is roughly half the diameter of the Milky Way.

Why did I want to photograph the Sombrero Galaxy?

I have always been intrigued by this galaxy and the fact that even telescopes like the Hubble even have trouble capturing the details in it. M104 is an edge-on galaxy that, even at small telescope magnifications, looks like it has more detail than is there, mostly because of the dustlane you see at the center. Plus, the overall starfield it lays within is rich in other objects - giving it that “deep space” look. If you look at the image below, where I zoomed in on the astrophoto, there are numerous other galaxies at greater distances than M104 itself.

Photographying the galaxy isn't too difficult, but being about to draw out faint details is. Big scopes, and good processing are key with this one!

Messier 104 is part of a complex cloud of galaxies located to the south of the Virgo Cluster, but it is unclear whether it belongs to a formal group of galaxies. It may be part of a group that also includes the galaxies NGC 4487, NGC 4504, NGC 4802, UGCA 289, and a few others.

In our photo, you can make out at least 50 + other galaxies in the background of M104.

It has a large population of globular clusters. Observations have yielded estimates in the range from 1,200 to 2,000 globulars.

Photo details

Telescope: PlaneWave 24"
Mount: Planewave L600 direct drive mount
Camera: Moravian C3-61000 Pro, Temp= -10, Gain-0
Guider: ZWO ASI 174mm mini as the guide camera, off axis guided
Controller: NINA
Acquisition: RGB+L 20 frames @ 600 seconds each (6.5 hours total)
Darks/Flats/Bias: Yes
Processing: Pixinsight, Photoshop
Location: Chile/Missouri
Bortle: 1

 

Other galaxies close to M104 Sombrero galaxy

The challenge of the Sombrero Galaxy (M104)

Capturing detailed images of distant galaxies like the Sombrero Galaxy (M104) is challenging for several reasons.

Distance: The Sombrero Galaxy is approximately 28 million light-years away from Earth. This vast distance means that capturing detailed images requires powerful telescopes with high magnification and resolution capabilities. Even our 14" dome-based telescope here in Missouri has difficulty making out the tiny details.

Brightness Contrast: The Sombrero Galaxy has a very bright nucleus compared to its spiral arms and the dark dust lane. This significant contrast in brightness can make it difficult to capture both the bright core and the fainter outer regions in a single exposure without overexposing the nucleus or underexposing the arms. Post-processing helps here - but it's a tricky balance.

Equipment Limitations: Amateur astronomers face limitations in terms of telescope size, camera sensitivity, and tracking accuracy. These factors can affect the quality of the images captured.

Integration Time: To capture the faint details of galaxies, long exposure times are often required. This means that the telescope must track the galaxy accurately over extended periods without any movement, which can be challenging.

Processing Challenges: After capturing the images, processing them to bring out the details without introducing noise or artifacts requires patience and trail and error. In my photo, I slightly focused more on the overall field rather than the galaxy itself so I could bring out the overall region.

Position in the Sky: Depending on one's location on Earth and the time of year, the Sombrero Galaxy might be positioned low on the horizon, where the atmosphere is thickest, further complicating observations. So the remote opportunity to use the 24" telescope in Chile shined here!

Many other galaxies in the same frame as M104 Sombrero

The Sombrero galaxy distance to earth

The Sombrero Galaxy (also known as Messier 104 or NGC 4594) is located approximately 31.1 million light-years away from Earth.

To understand this immense distance, consider that even within our own Milky Way galaxy, most stars are much closer to us than 31.1 million light-years. For instance, our nearest neighboring star, Proxima Centauri, is just 4.24 light-years away. The Sombrero Galaxy, at 31.1 million light-years, is much farther away and lies outside our Milky Way galaxy in the vast expanse of the universe.

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Our photo (above) of The Sombrero galaxy zoomed in and cropped to focus only on the galaxy itself.
 

The Hubble Space Telescope zoom into the Sombrero Galaxy (below).

M104 Sombrero Galaxy and The Bible

The vastness and beauty of the universe, including galaxies like the Sombrero, can be related to biblical passages that speak of God's magnificent creation and the wonders of the heavens.

For instance, Psalm 19:1 says:
"The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands."

This verse can be interpreted to mean that the vastness and beauty of the universe, including the intricate design of galaxies like the Sombrero Galaxy, are a testament to the grandeur and creativity of God. When we gaze upon such celestial wonders, we can be reminded of the infinite power and majesty of the Creator.

While the Bible doesn't specifically mention individual galaxies or celestial objects discovered in the modern era, its verses emphasize the awe-inspiring nature of the universe and the divine hand behind its creation.

About the Author

Richard Harris
Richard Harris


Meet Richard Harris, a passionate and dedicated astronomer who embarked on a cosmic journey at the age of 11 and has been reaching for the stars ever since. Born with an innate curiosity for the universe. Richard's fascination with astronomy ignited when he first gazed up at the night sky and felt an indescribable connection to the cosmos and creation. As a younger lad, Richard spent countless hours poring over astronomy books, studying constellations, and learning about the celestial wonders that grace our skies. In 2001 Richard invented the HyperTune telescope process which has grown into the standard for German equatorial telescope mount tuning across the globe. When he's not taking photos of our universe you can find him with family, playing guitar, or traveling.

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