Hubble has joined forces with two amateur astronomers to capture a monster, and it may be one of the most beautiful four-armed giants ever seen.

This colourful mosaic offers a highly detailed look at the spiral galaxy M106, which sits about 20 million light years away. The image was created by amateur astrophotographer Robert Gendler, who retrieved archive images from the Hubble Space Telescope to assemble a mosaic of the centre of M106. He then used his own and fellow amateur Jay GaBany's observations of M106 to combine with the Hubble data in areas where there was less coverage, and finally, to fill in the holes and gaps where no Hubble data existed.

At first glance the galaxy may look like any other spiral, including our own Milky Way. But M106 is full of surprises.

Like other large galaxies, M106 holds a supermassive black hole at its core. While the one at the heart of the Milky Way only picks at its food, the black hole in M106 is unusually ravenous, actively devouring matter and spewing out jets of particles.

Even more bizarre, the galaxy boasts a set of ghostly arms that shine brightly in X-ray and radio wavelengths, seen in this image in red. Unlike the normal limbs of spiral galaxies, these arms contain only hot gas and no stars. In 2007, pictures from several telescopes helped reveal that the arms are being created by shock waves driven by the black hole's particle jets.

Gendler was a prizewinner in the recent Hubble's Hidden Treasures image-processing competition. If you fancy having a go at mining Hubble's archives to create a stunning image of your own, check out the ESA's introduction to using the Hubble Legacy Archive.

Image by NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), and R. Gendler (for the Hubble Heritage Team)


An Amateur Astronomer Helped Hubble Snap This Galactic MonsterNew Scientist reports, explores and interprets the results of human endeavour set in the context of society and culture, providing comprehensive coverage of science and technology news.