Messier 66 – the NGC 3627 Intermediate Spiral Galaxy

Welcome back to Messier Monday! Today, we continue in our tribute to our dear friend, Tammy Plotner, by looking at the intermediate spiral galaxy known as Messier 66.

In the 18th century, while searching the night sky for comets, French astronomer Charles Messier kept noting the presence of fixed, diffuse objects he initially mistook for comets. In time, he would come to compile a list of approximately 100 of these objects, hoping to prevent other astronomers from making the same mistake. This list – known as the Messier Catalog – would go on to become one of the most influential catalogs of Deep Sky Objects.

One of these objects is the intermediate elliptical galaxy known as Messier 66 (NGC 3627). Located about 36 million light-years from Earth in the direction of the Leo constellation, this galaxy measures 95,000 light-years in diameter. It is also the brightest and largest member of the Leo Triplet of galaxies and is well-known for its bright star clusters, dust lanes, and associated supernovae.

Description:

Enjoying life some 35 million light years from the Milky Way, the group known as the “Leo Trio” is home to bright galaxy Messier 66 – the easternmost of the two M objects. In the telescope or binoculars, you’ll find this barred spiral galaxy far more visible and much easier to see details within its knotted arms and bulging core.

Hubble image of the intermediate spiral galaxy Messier 66. Credits: NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage (STScI/AURA)-ESA/Hubble Collaboration/Davide De Martin/Robert Gendler

Because of interaction with its neighboring galaxies, M66 shows signs of a extremely high central mass concentration as well as a resolved noncorotating clump of H I material apparently removed from one of the spiral arms. Even one of its spiral arms got it noted in Halton Arp’s collection of Peculiar Galaxies! So exactly what did it collide with?As   Xiaolei Zhang (et al) indicated in a 1993 study:

“The combined CO and H I data provide new information, both on the history of the past encounter of NGC 3627 with its companion galaxy NGC 3628 and on the subsequent dynamical evolution of NGC 3627 as a result of this tidal interaction. In particular, the morphological and kinematic information indicates that the gravitational torque experienced by NGC 3627 during the close encounter triggered a sequence of dynamical processes, including the formation of prominent spiral structures, the central concentration of both the stellar and gas mass, the formation of two widely separated and outwardly located inner Lindblad resonances, and the formation of a gaseous bar inside the inner resonance. These processes in coordination allow the continuous and efficient radial mass accretion across the entire galactic disk. The observational result in the current work provides a detailed picture of a nearby interacting galaxy which is very likely in the process of evolving into a nuclear active galaxy. It also suggests one of the possible mechanisms for the formation of successive instabilities in postinteraction galaxies, which could very efficiently channel the interstellar medium into the center of the galaxy to fuel nuclear starburst and Seyfert activities.”

Ah, yes! Star forming regions… And what better way to look deeper than through the eyes of the Spitzer Space Telescope? As R. Kennicutt (University of Arizona) and the SINGS Team observed:

“M66’s blue core and bar-like structure illustrates a concentration of older stars. While the bar seems devoid of star formation, the bar ends are bright red and actively forming stars. A barred spiral offers an exquisite laboratory for star formation because it contains many different environments with varying levels of star-formation activity, e.g., nucleus, rings, bar, the bar ends and spiral arms. The SINGS image is a four-channel false-color composite, where blue indicates emission at 3.6 microns, green corresponds to 4.5 microns, and red to 5.8 and 8.0 microns. The contribution from starlight (measured at 3.6 microns) in this picture has been subtracted from the 5.8 and 8 micron images to enhance the visibility of the dust features.”

Colour composite image of the spiral galaxy M66 (or NGC 3627) obtained with the FORS1 and FORS2 multi-mode instruments (at VLT MELIPAL and YEPUN, respectively). Credit: ESO

Messier 66 has also been deeply studied for evidence of forming super star clusters, too. As David Meier indicated:

“Super star clusters are thought to be precursors of globular clusters and are some of the most extreme star formation regions in the universe. They tend to occur in actively starbursting galaxies or near the cores of less active galaxies. Radio super star clusters cannot be seen in optical light because of extreme extinction, but they shine brightly in infrared and radio observations. We can be certain that there are many massive O stars in these regions because massive stars are required to provide the UV radiation that ionizes the gas and creates a thermally bright HII regions. Not many natal SSCs are currently known, so detection is an important science goal in its own right. In particular, very few SSCs are known in galactic disks. We need more detections to be able to make statistical statements about SSCs and fill in the mass range of forming star clusters. With more detections, we will be able to investigate the effects of other environments (e.g. bars, bubbles, and galactic interaction) on SSCs, which could potentially be followed up in the far future with the Square Kilometer Array to discover their effects on individual forming massive stars.”

But there’s still more. Try magnetic properties in M66’s spiral patterns. As M. Soida (et al) indicated in their 2001 study:

“By observing the interacting galaxy NGC 3627 in radio polarization we try to answer the question; to which degree does the magnetic field follow the galactic gas flow. We obtained total power and polarized intensity maps at 8.46 GHz and 4.85 GHz using the VLA in its compact D-configuration. In order to overcome the zero-spacing problems, the interferometric data were combined with single-dish measurements obtained with the Effelsberg 100-m radio telescope. The observed magnetic field structure in NGC 3627 suggests that two field components are superposed. One component smoothly fills the interarm space and shows up also in the outermost disk regions, the other component follows a symmetric S-shaped structure. In the western disk the latter component is well aligned with an optical dust lane, following a bend which is possibly caused by external interactions. However, in the SE disk the magnetic field crosses a heavy dust lane segment, apparently being insensitive to strong density-wave effects. We suggest that the magnetic field is decoupled from the gas by high turbulent diffusion, in agreement with the large Hi line width in this region. We discuss in detail the possible influence of compression effects and non-axisymmetric gas flows on the general magnetic field asymmetries in NGC 3627. On the basis of the Faraday rotation distribution we also suggest the existence of a large ionized halo around this galaxy.”

History of Observation:

Both M65 and M66 were discovered on the same night – March 1, 1780 – by Charles Messier, who described M66 as, “Nebula discovered in Leo; its light is very faint and it is very close to the preceding: They both appear in the same field in the refractor. The comet of 1773 and 1774 has passed between these two nebulae on November 1 to 2, 1773. M. Messier didn’t see them at that time, no doubt, because of the light of the comet.”

Both galaxies would be observed and cataloged by the Herschel family and further expounded upon by Admiral Smyth:

“A large elongated nebula, with a bright nucleus, on the Lion’s haunch, trending np [north preceding, NW] and sf [south following, SE]; this beautiful specimen of perspective lies just 3deg south-east of Theta Leonis. It is preceded at about 73s by another of a similar shape, which is Messier’s No. 65, and both are in the field at the same time, under a moderate power, together with several stars. They were pointed out by Mechain to Messier in 1780, and they appeared faint and hazy to him. The above is their appearance in my instrument.

“These inconceivably vast creations are followed, exactly on the same parallel, ar Delta AR=174s, by another elliptical nebula of even a more stupendous character as to apparent dimensions. It was discovered by H. [John Herschel], in sweeping, and is No. 875 in his Catalogue of 1830 [actually, probably an erroneous position for re-observed M66]. The two preceding of these singular objects were examined by Sir William Herschel, and his son [JH] also; and the latter says, “The general form of elongated nebulae is elliptic, and their condensation towards the centre is almost invariably such as would arise from the superposition of luminous elliptic strata, increasing in density towards the centre. In many cases the increase of density is obviously attended with a diminution of ellipticity, or a nearer approach to the globular form in the central than in the exterior strata.” He then supposes the general constitution of those nebulae to be that of oblate spheroidal masses of every degree of flatness from the sphere to the disk, and of every variety in respect of the law of their density, and ellipticity towards the centre. This must appear startling and paradoxical to those who imagine that the forms of these systems are maintained by forces identical with those which determine the form of a fluid mass in rotation; because, if the nebulae be only clusters of discrete stars, as in the greater number of cases there is every reason to believe them to be, no pressure can propagate through them. Consequently, since no general rotation of such a system as one mass can be supposed, Sir John suggests a scheme which he shows is not, under certain conditions, inconsistent with the law of gravitation. “It must rather be conceived,” he tells us, ” as a quiescent form, comprising within its limits an indefinite magnitude of individual constituents, which, for aught we can tell, may be moving one among the other, each animated by its own inherent projectile force, and deflected into an orbit more or less complicated, by the influence of that law of internal gravitation which may result from the compounded attractions of all its parts.”

Messier 66 location. Credit: IAU and Sky & Telescope magazine (Roger Sinnott & Rick Fienberg)

Locating Messier 66:

Even though you might think by its apparent visual magnitude that M66 wouldn’t be visible in small binoculars, you’d be wrong. Surprisingly enough, thanks to its large size and high surface brightness, this particular galaxy is very easy to spot directly between Iota and Theta Leonis. In even 5X30 binoculars under good conditions you’ll easy see both it and M65 as two distinct gray ovals.

A small telescope will begin to bring out structure in both of these bright and wonderful galaxies, but to get a hint at the “Trio” you’ll need at least 6″ in aperture and a good dark night. If you don’t spot them right away in binoculars, don’t be disappointed – this means you probably don’t have good sky conditions and try again on a more transparent night. The pair is well suited to modestly moonlit nights with larger telescopes.

May you equally be attracted to this galactic pair!

And here are the quick facts on M66 to help you get started:

Object Name: Messier 66
Alternative Designations: M66, NGC 3627, (a member of the) Leo Trio, Leo Triplet
Object Type: Type Sb Spiral Galaxy
Constellation: Leo
Right Ascension: 11 : 20.2 (h:m)
Declination: +12 : 59 (deg:m)
Distance: 35000 (kly)
Visual Brightness: 8.9 (mag)
Apparent Dimension: 8×2.5 (arc min)

We have written many interesting articles about Messier Objects here at Universe Today. Here’s Tammy Plotner’s Introduction to the Messier ObjectsM1 – The Crab Nebula, and David Dickison’s articles on the 2013 and 2014 Messier Marathons.

Be to sure to check out our complete Messier Catalog. And for more information, check out the SEDS Messier Database.

Sources:

Messier 65 – the NGC 3623 Intermediate Spiral Galaxy

Welcome back to Messier Monday! Today, we continue in our tribute to our dear friend, Tammy Plotner, by looking at the intermediate spiral galaxy known as Messier 65.

In the 18th century, while searching the night sky for comets, French astronomer Charles Messier kept noting the presence of fixed, diffuse objects he initially mistook for comets. In time, he would come to compile a list of approximately 100 of these objects, hoping to prevent other astronomers from making the same mistake. This list – known as the Messier Catalog – would go on to become one of the most influential catalogs of Deep Sky Objects.

One of these objects is the intermediate spiral galaxy known as Messier 65 (aka. NGC 3623), which is located about 35 million light-years from Earth in the Leo constellation. Along with with Messier 66 and NGC 3628, it is part of a small group of galaxies known as the Leo Triplet, which makes it one of the most popular targets among amateur astronomers.

Description:

Enjoying life some 35 million light years from the Milky Way, the group known as the “Leo Trio” is home to bright galaxy Messier 65 – the westernmost of the two M objects. To the casual observer, it looks like a very normal spiral galaxy and thus its classification as Sa – but M65 is a galaxy which walks on the borderline. Why? Because of close gravitational interaction with its nearby neighbors. Who can withstand the draw of gravity?!

The Messier 65 intermediate spiral galaxy. Credit: ESO/INAF-VST/OmegaCAM/Astro-WISE/Kapteyn Institute

Chances are very good that Messier 65 is even quite a bit larger than we see optically as well. As E. Burbidge (et al) said in a 1961 study:

“A fragmentary rotation-curve for NGC 3623 was obtained from measures of the absorption features Ca ii X 3968 and Na I X 5893 and the emission lines [N ii] X 6583 and Ha. The measures from two outer regions are discordant if only circular velocities are assumed, and it is concluded that the measured velocity of one of these regions-the only prominent H ii region in the galaxy-has a large non-circular component. The approximate mass derived from the velocity in the outer arm relative to the center is 1.4 X 1011 M0. It is concluded that the total mass is larger than this, perhaps between 2 and 3 X 1011 M0. This would suggest that the mass-to-light ratio in solar units (photographic) for this galaxy, which is intermediate in type between Sa and Sb, lies between 10 and 20.”

But just how much interaction has been going on between the three galaxies which coexist so closely? Sometimes it takes things like studying in multicolor photometry data to understand. As Zhiyu Duan of the Chinese Academy of Sciences Astronomical Observatory indicated in a 2006 study:

“By comparing the observed SEDs of each part of the galaxies with the theoretical ones generated by instantaneous burst evolutionary synthesis models with different metallicities (Z = 0.0001, 0.008, 0.02, and 0.05), two-dimensional relative age distribution maps of the three galaxies were obtained. NGC 3623 exhibits a very weak age gradient from the bulge to the disk. This gradient is absent in NGC 3627. The ages of the dominant stellar populations of NGC 3627 and NGC 3628 are consistent, and this consistency is model independent (0.5-0.6 Gyr, Z = 0.02), but the ages of NGC 3623 are systematically older (0.7-0.9 Gyr, Z = 0.02). The results indicate that NGC 3627 and NGC 3628 have undergone synchronous evolution and that the interaction has likely triggered starbursts in both galaxies. The results indicate that NGC 3627 and NGC 3628 have undergone synchronous evolution and that the interaction has likely triggered starbursts in both galaxies. For NGC 3623, however, the weak age gradient may indicate recent star formation in its bulge, which has caused its color to turn blue. Evidence is found for a potential bar existing in the bulge of NGC 3623, and my results support the view that NGC 3623 does interact with NGC 3627 and NGC 3628.”

Messier 65, as imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope. Credit: NASA,/ESA/Hubble Space Telescope

So, let’s try looking at things in a slightly different color – integral-field spectroscopy. As V.L. Afanasiev (et al) said in a 2004 study:

“The mean ages of their circumnuclear stellar populations are quite different, and the magnesium overabundance of the nucleus in NGC 3627 is evidence for a very brief last star formation event 1 Gyr ago whereas the evolution of the central part of NGC 3623 looks more quiescent. In the center of NGC 3627 we observe noticeable gas radial motions, and the stars and the ionized gas in the center of NGC 3623 demonstrate more or less stable rotation. However, NGC 3623 has a chemically distinct core – a relic of a past star formation burst – which is shaped as a compact, dynamically cold stellar disk with a radius of ?250-350 pc which has been formed not later than 5 Gyr ago.”

Now, let’s take a look at that gas – and the properties for the gases that exist and co-exist in the galactic trio. As David Hogg (et al) explained in a 2001 study:

“We have studied the distribution of cool, warm, and hot interstellar matter in three of the nearest bright Sa galaxies. New X-ray data for NGC 1291, the object with the most prominent bulge, confirm earlier results that the ISM in the bulge is dominated by hot gas. NGC 3623 has a lesser amount of hot gas in the bulge but has both molecular gas and ionized hydrogen in the central regions. NGC 2775 has the least prominent bulge; its X-ray emission is consistent with an origin in X-ray binary stars, and there is a strict upper limit on the amount of molecular present in the bulge. All three galaxies have a ring of neutral hydrogen in the disk. NGC 3623 and NGC 2775 each have in addition a molecular ring coincident with the hydrogen ring. We conclude that even within the morphological class Sa there can be significant differences in the gas content of the bulge, with the more massive bulges being likely to contain hot, X-ray–emitting gas. We discuss the possibility that the X-ray gas is part of a cooling flow in which cool gas is produced in the nucleus.”

The Leo Triplet, with M65 at the upper right, M66 at the lower right, and NGC 3628 at the upper left. Credit: Scott Anttila. Credit: Wikipedia Commons/Anttler

Even more studies have been done to take a look a disc properties associated with M65. According to M. Bureau (et al);

“NGC 3623 (M 65) is another highly-inclined galaxy in the Leo group, but it is of much later type than NGC 3377, SABa(rs). It is part of the Leo triplet with NGC 3627 and NGC 3628 but does not appear to be interacting. NGC 3623’s kinematics an has barely been studied and observations provide a glimpse of its dynamics. The large-scale velocity reveals minor-axis rotation, in agreement with the presence of a bar. In addition, a quasi edge-on disk is present in the center, where the iso velocity contours flatten out abruptly.”

History of Observation:

Both M65 and M66 were discovered on the same night – March 1, 1780 – by Charles Messier, who described M65 as “Nebula discovered in Leo: It is very faint and contains no star.” Sir William Herschel would later observe M65 as well, describing it as “A very brilliant nebula extended in the meridian, about 12′ long. It has a bright nucleus, the light of which suddenly diminishes on its border, and two opposite very faint branches.”

However, it would be Lord Rosse who would be the first to see structure: “March 31, 1848. – A curious nebula with a bright nucleus; resolvable; a spiral or annular arrangement about it; no other portion of the nebula resolved. Observed April 1, 1848 and April 3, with the same results.”

Locating Messier 65:

Even though you might think by its apparent visual magnitude that M65 wouldn’t be visible in small binoculars, you’d be wrong. Surprisingly enough, thanks to its large size and high surface brightness, this particular galaxy is very easy to spot directly between Iota and Theta Leonis. In even 5X30 binoculars under good conditions you’ll easy see both it and M66 as two distinct gray ovals.

Messier 65 location. Credit: IAU and Sky & Telescope magazine (Roger Sinnott & Rick Fienberg)

A small telescope will begin to bring out structure in both of these bright and wonderful galaxies, but to get a hint at the “Trio” you’ll need at least 6″ in aperture and a good dark night. If you don’t spot them right away in binoculars, don’t be disappointed – this means you probably don’t have good sky conditions and try again on a more transparent night. The pair is well suited to modestly moonlit nights with larger telescopes.

Capture one of the Trio tonight! And here are the quick facts on this Messier Object:

Object Name: Messier 65
Alternative Designations: M65, NGC 3623, (a member of the) Leo Trio, Leo Triplet
Object Type: Type Sa Spiral Galaxy
Constellation: Leo
Right Ascension: 11 : 18.9 (h:m)
Declination: +13 : 05 (deg:m)
Distance: 35000 (kly)
Visual Brightness: 9.3 (mag)
Apparent Dimension: 8×1.5 (arc min)

We have written many interesting articles about Messier Objects here at Universe Today. Here’s Tammy Plotner’s Introduction to the Messier ObjectsM1 – The Crab Nebula, and David Dickison’s articles on the 2013 and 2014 Messier Marathons.

Be to sure to check out our complete Messier Catalog. And for more information, check out the SEDS Messier Database.

Sources: