What’s at the centre of a galaxy cluster?

Gemma Lavender gets to the bottom of this question for us


Messier 87, the supergiant elliptical galaxy at the heart of our cluster.

Asked by Jamie Delancey

Our Galaxy – the Milky Way – is part of a group of galaxies called the Local Group. If we were to take a step away from the Local Group, at a distance of a good few million light years away, we would be able to see that this grouping of galaxies – which not only contains our galaxy but Andromeda, the Triangulum Galaxy and various dwarf galaxies too – is only a small portion of an even larger cluster of some 1300 member galaxies called the Virgo Cluster.

At the very centre of this cluster rests a supergiant elliptical galaxy known as M87 which is located approximately 53.5 million light years away. Elliptical galaxies are generally featureless to look at with an ellipsoidal shape and a brightness that is concentrated at the centre which fades away the further from its core you move. Galaxy groupings like the Virgo Cluster are common in the sense that elliptical galaxies can be found at their centre.

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