Eye of the furnace: Hubble captures close-up of spiral galaxy NGC 1097

From NASA's Image of the Day blog: "This face-on galaxy, lying 45 million light-years away from Earth in the southern constellation of Fornax (The Furnace), is particularly attractive for astronomers. NGC 1097 is a Seyfert galaxy. Lurking at the very center of the galaxy, a supermassive black hole 100 million times the mass of our sun is gradually sucking in the matter around it. The area immediately around the black hole shines powerfully with radiation coming from the material falling in."


  1. Correct me if I’m wrong, but since the galaxy is 45 million light years away we’re really seeing it as it was…well, long before the appearance of homo sapiens. It alternately fascinates and frustrates me that these are images from the very distant past. It fascinates me because we’re looking back in time, and frustrates because, well, gosh darn it, it’ll very likely be another 45 million light years before we know what’s happening to this galaxy right now. 

    1. It’s an interesting problem with cosmology. Depending on the way one measures distances can vary widely.
      For instance, the proper distance for the radius of the observable universe is estimated to be around 45-or-so billion light years, even though the universe is only about 13.7 billion years old. This would seem impossible, until you realize that space itself has been expanding ever since the big bang.

      On short scales (eg 45 million light years) this expansion isn’t very significant. So it’s relatively safe to assume something 45 million ly away looks to us as it did 45 million years ago.

      But when astronomers talk about ancient galaxies at the farthest reaches of our sight, the news often reports these objects at distances around 13 billion ly. While the light may have traveled for 13 billion years, the whole time it was in transit the space both behind and ahead is stretching out. By the time the light gets to us, the space along its path has expanded to be much longer than when those photons first were emitted.

      1. Just to expand (heheh) on your answer a little just because I was reading about this recently. Most of the expansion happened in the first 10 to the minus 30 seconds. Blink. I’ve read enough Feynman to know that the best we can do for making analogies of that experience to our world would be “Thar be dragons.” 

  2. Question for anyone with the expertise:  If I’m remembering correctly, the Seyfert galaxies are the ones emitting jets of radio-bright material 180-degrees apart.  My question is that, since this galaxy is flat on to us, whether that means we’d be looking down the barrel of the gun so to speak in terms of the jets?

  3. …..the most haunting things in these types of images aren’t the main galaxy the picture is focused on, it’s those even further, dim and distant galaxies one can see in the background….it just keeps on going on and on forever…and forever….*shudder*

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