M87 Galaxy Facts

Messier 87 is an elliptical galaxy and is considered to be one of the best examples of this galaxy type.

Messier 87 Galaxy Profile

Also known as:M87, Virgo A or NGC 4486
Type:Elliptical Galaxy
Diameter:120,000 light years
Distance:53 Million light years
Mass:2,400 billion M☉
Number of Stars:1 trillion

It’s scientific designation is M87 or NGC 4486, and scientists are constantly studying it because it has a “jet” that can be seen with optical lights as well as radio emissions and x-rays.

This jet extends from the center of its supermassive black hole and continues out to around 5,000 light-years.

Like other elliptical galaxies, Messier 87 doesn’t have any evidence that stars form in it or that it has dust lanes. It’s believed that Messier 87 formed when two galaxies collided and merged.

Who discovered Messier 87

Charles Messier discovered M87 in 1781 and cataloged it first as a nebulous feature in the sky. Since it was the 87th listing in his catalog, he gave it that number.

Later research and investigation have found that M87 is filled with gas that is enriched by the dying remnants of stars.

It does contain some dust, but not as much as is found in many other galaxies, including the Milky Way Galaxy.

Black Hole

At the center of M87 is the black hole that has a mass of 3.5 billion suns. The black hole is enveloped with material that is being consumed by the black hole and then heated by the jet, it’s being shot out of the black hole at high speeds.

Scientists believe that there is a possibility that there may be more than one supermassive black hole. The entire galaxy of M87 is surrounded by a hot gas corona.

The monstrous M87 is considered to be the dominant member of the Virgo galaxy cluster that has around 2,000 galaxies total.

Hubble Space Telescope

The Hubble Space Telescope made a composite image of individual pictures with the most fascinating part of the image being the blue jet that is near its middle, as well as the globular clusters that are scattered around.

The 1999 pictures from Hubble show the jet expulsion at an optical illusion of 4-6 times the speed of light.

It is believed that the globular clusters may have accumulated due to the gravitational pull against the dwarf galaxies that are close by.

It’s believed that there are around 12,000 globular clusters which is considerably greater than the 150-200 globular clusters of the Milky Way Galaxy.


One of the other fascinating things about M87 is that not far away from it is a collection of galaxies arranged in a kind of chain-like structure that is named “Markarian’s Chain.” Anyone with a really excellent telescope can see these chains.

M87 is an elliptical galaxy but instead of being shaped in a flat spiral as so many other galaxies are, it is spheroid in shape.

It takes a very large telescope, but scientists have observed this massive giant actually growing larger.

It’s been confirmed that M87 is growing and expanding and this is due to the fact that it is consuming and devouring interstellar matter and the smaller galaxies around it.

Facts about Messier 87

  • It has also been confirmed that in the last one billion years, M87 is merging with a smaller spiral galaxy.
  • The jet at the center of M87 is made up of various radiation wavelengths and contains x-rays as well as optical light.
  • The appearance of M87 has been compared to a “fuzzy fat watermelon.”
  • The luminosity or brightness of M87 is highest in the center and decreases as you move away from the middle.
  • Most of M87’s stars are in the center and this is the reason the center is brighter.
  • When viewed, our Milky Way looks like a thin disk, whereas M87 is very thick.
  • Scientists don’t see any evidence that very many stars are made in M87.


  • Why was Messier 87 given the number of “87?”
    because it was the 87th entry in the catalog
  • When you look at M87, what funny image has it been compared to?
    a fuzzy fat watermelon
  • What unusual feature does M87 have that make it interesting for scientists to study?
    a jet shooting matter from the black hole
  • What type of galaxy has M87 been classified as?
    an elliptical galaxy
  • What is unique about M87’s jet?
    it shoots out various radiation wavelengths and contains x-rays as well as optical light
  • Are stars being born in M87?
    no evidence that they are