Pictures of the Leo Triplet
The three galaxies that make up the Leo Triplet, M66, M65 and NGC 3628, are engaged in a gravitational tug of war, making this a fascinating deep-sky spectacle.
The Leo Triplet has to be one of the most mesmerising celestial targets that can fit in a single telescope field of view.
Consisting of 3 beautiful galaxies M66 and M65 (from the Messier Catalogue) and NGC 3628, each member of the Leo Triplet is a spiral galaxy, although it may not initially appear as though this is the case.
Each galaxy looks as though it belongs in a different galactic category from its neighbour, but this is because they are all tilted at different angles from our perspective on Earth.
NGC 3628 is the thin-looking galaxy, appearing edge-on through Earth-based telescopes.
While this edge-on view hides the galaxy’s spiral structure from us, what is visible is the thick, dark dust lanes cutting through the galactic plane and hot young stars glowing bright blue.
One other thing to note in the case of NGC 3628 is its warped and bulged appearance: likely a result of gravitational interactions between the 3 galaxies.
NGC 3628’s appearance has earned it the nickname ‘the Hamburger Galaxy’ among astronomers.
M66 (the lower of the two remaining) and M65 are angled more favourably in terms of displaying their spiral structure, and their distinct arms can clearly be seen in most astro images of the target.
M66 is slightly asymmetrical, however: again as a result of the gravitational tug-of-war playing out between the 3 galaxies.
The Leo Triplet is located about 30 million lightyears from Earth in the Leo constellation that gives this iconic galaxy grouping its nickname.
Below is a selection of images captured by BBC Sky at Night Magazine readers and astrophotographers from across the globe.