First Galaxy Imaged with 16-inch Telescope at West Point
Spiral galaxy M66 is the largest of a galaxy triplet located in the constellation of Leo. This galaxy is remarkable for three reasons: its peculiar, asymmetric spiral arms, its unusual central bulge, or central dust cloud, heated up by older stars (many other galaxies have younger stars in their center), and a powerful "Type Ia" supernova observed in it in 1989. Supernovas, nearly identical events, are important "mile markers" helpful in determining the scale of the universe. M66 is located roughly 35 million light years away, so that light recorded by CDT Norah Stapleton and Dr. Paula Fekete, with the help of consultant Pat Knoll, left the galaxy when land mammals were just evolving on Earth. It took a 3300-second exposure (five minutes shy of an hour) to collect all those ancient photons!