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NGC 3351

A prominent and important member of a small group of galaxies in Leo. Known as the Leo I Group (or the M96 Group after its brightest member) this close galactic cluster lies to the south of the Lion's body in the sky. A small group (with just eight major galaxies and only a few dozen members in total) the Leo I Group is an outlying branch of the Virgo Supercluster, and lies about 37 million light years from the Milky Way.

To an observer on Earth, M95 is oriented so that it appears almost exactly face-on, and thus the details of its complex spiral structure can be easily seen. The galaxy has a brilliant nucleus, and surrounding its central regions, lying about a thousand light years from the core, is a ring of star-forming material in which new clusters of stars are collapsing into existence.

From these bright central regions, the galaxy's bar extends out for thousands of light years until it reaches a ring structure that circles the centre of the galaxy, and from there spiral arms extend out in all directions. The entire galaxy contains about 40,000 million stars, within an average diameter of some 67,000 light years. This makes M95 the second largest member of the Leo I Group, behind its near neighbour, the slightly larger complex spiral M96.


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