Messier 96, also known as M96 or NGC 3368, is a spiral galaxy just over 35 million light-years away in the constellation of Leo (The Lion). It is of about the same mass and size as the Milky Way.
M96 is the brightest galaxy within the M96 Group, a group of galaxies in the constellation Leo that includes the Messier objects M95 and M105, as well as at least nine other galaxies.
First discovered by astronomer Pierre Méchain in 1781, the galaxy later made it to Charles Messier’s famous catalogue of astronomical objects just four days later.
“The galaxy resembles a giant maelstrom of glowing gas, rippled with dark dust that swirls inwards towards the nucleus. Messier 96 is a very asymmetric galaxy; its dust and gas are unevenly spread throughout its weak spiral arms, and its core is not exactly at the galactic center. Its arms are also asymmetrical, thought to have been influenced by the gravitational pull of other galaxies within the same group as Messier 96,” ESA wrote in a statement.
This group, named the M96 Group, also includes the bright galaxies Messier 105 and Messier 95, as well as a number of smaller and fainter galaxies. It is the nearest group containing both bright spirals and a bright elliptical galaxy (Messier 105), it added.