Messier 104 (M104), Sombrero Galaxy
The Messier Catalog, sometimes known as the Messier Album or list of Messier objects, is one of the most useful tools in the astronomy hobby. In the middle of the 18th century, the return of Halley's comet helped to prove the Newtonian theory, and helped to spark a new interest in astronomy. During this time, a French astronomer named Charles Messier began a life-long search for comets. He would eventually discover 15 of them. On August 28, 1758, while searching for comets, Messier found a small cloudy object in the constellation Taurus. He began keeping a journal of these nebulous (cloudy) objects so that they would not be confused with comets. This journal is known today as the Messier Catalog, or Messier Album. The deep sky objects in this catalog are commonly referred to as Messier objects.
NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has trained its razor-sharp eye on one of the universe's most stately and photogenic galaxies, the Sombrero galaxy, Messier 104 (M104). The galaxy's hallmark is a brilliant white, bulbous core encircled by the thick dust lanes comprising the spiral structure of the galaxy. As seen from Earth, the galaxy is tilted nearly edge-on. We view it from just six degrees north of its equatorial plane. This brilliant galaxy was named the Sombrero because of its resemblance to the broad rim and high-topped Mexican hat. At a relatively bright magnitude of +8, M104 is just beyond the limit of naked-eye visibility and is easily seen through small telescopes. The Sombrero lies at the southern edge of the rich Virgo cluster of galaxies and is one of the most massive objects in that group, equivalent to 800 billion suns. The galaxy is 50,000 light-years across and is located 30 million light-years from Earth.