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December 2002

M106: A "Seyfert" Galaxy

This spiral galaxy is similar in structure to our Milky Way, but shows several peculiar features that suggest a tortured past.

Lying about 25 million light years away, the image shows faint starlight extending well beyond the bright inner portions. In addition, the pink spots show areas of vigorous star formation (and the light of excited hydrogen gas) with many massive stars producing huge nebulae. These giant glowing clouds dwarf those in our own galaxy pictured elsewhere in this calendar.

The bright nucleus of M106 is also a strong source of radio waves and X-rays. It is perhaps the closest example of a "Seyfert" galaxy - the mildest form of active galactic nucleus (or AGN). AGNs are believed to be powered by the infall of material into a massive black hole, millions of times more massive than our sun, lying in the very center of the galaxy.