NASA's Hubble Captures Bizarre Galaxy Hurtling Towards The Milky Way

NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) have released a spectacular image of Messier 90 in the constellation Virgo—a beautiful spiral galaxy located around 60 million light-years from our own Milky Way.

This galaxy is particularly interesting to astronomers because it is one of the few that have been observed traveling towards the Milky Way, not away from it.
Scientists know this because the light shining from the galaxy is "blueshifted."

Essentially, this means that the wavelength of this light is compressed as it moves closer to us, thus decreasing the wavelength and pushing it towards the blue end of the visible spectrum.

Messier 90, galaxy
Messier 90, a beautiful spiral galaxy located roughly 60 million light-years from the Milky Way in the constellation of Virgo (The Virgin). SA/Hubble & NASA, W. Sargent et al.

This blueshifting stands in contrast to the way we see most galaxies in the universe. Because space is constantly expanding, the vast majority of galaxies that we see are moving away from us. As a result their light is "redshifted," meaning it undergoes an increase in wavelength which pushes it towards the red end of the spectrum.

Messier 90 is part of the Virgo Cluster—a vast collection of galaxies with more than 1,200 known members. It is the closest large cluster of galaxies to the Milky Way.

Scientists think that Messier 90's peculiar direction of travel could be explained by the enormous mass of the cluster in which it resides. Such a mass would be capable of accelerating the individual galaxies to high velocities, sending them on strange orbits which can take them both towards and away from us over time.

As a whole the Virgo Cluster is moving away from us, and many of the galaxies within it appear to be at traveling at very high velocities in this direction. However, a few of its galaxies—such as Messier 90—are moving at fast speeds in the opposite direction, thus they appear to be moving towards the Earth.

The image of Messier 90 was captured by Hubble's Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 which collects a combination of infrared, ultraviolet and visible light and was operational between 1994 and 2010.

Hubble, which is jointly operated by NASA and the ESA, was launched in 1990, and since then has been responsible for producing some of the most dramatic images of our universe. While not the first space observatory to be launched, it is one of the largest and most versatile still in use.