NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope set its infrared eyes on one of the most famous objects in the sky, Messier 104, also called the Sombrero galaxy. In this striking infrared picture, Spitzer sees an exciting new view of a galaxy that in visible light has been likened to a "sombrero," but here looks more like a "bulls-eye."
Recent observations using Spitzer's infrared array camera uncovered the bright, smooth ring of dust circling the galaxy, seen in red. In visible light, because this galaxy is seen nearly edge-on, only the near rim of dust can be clearly seen in silhouette. Spitzer's full view shows the disk is warped, which is often the result of a gravitational encounter with another galaxy, and clumpy areas spotted in the far edges of the ring indicate young star-forming regions.
Spitzer's infrared view of the starlight from this galaxy, seen in blue, can pierce through obscuring murky dust that dominates in visible light. As a result, the full extent of the bulge of stars and an otherwise hidden disk of stars within the dust ring are easily seen.
The Sombrero galaxy is located some 28 million light years away. Viewed from Earth, it is just six degrees south of its equatorial plane. Spitzer detected infrared emission not only from the ring, but from the center of the galaxy too, where there is a huge black hole, believed to be a billion times more massive than our Sun.
This picture is composed of four images taken at 3.6 (blue), 4.5 (green), 5.8 (orange), and 8.0 (red) microns. The contribution from starlight (measured at 3.6 microns) has been subtracted from the 5.8 and 8-micron images to enhance the visibility of the dust features.