04/25/2012 08:05 am ET

Sombrero Galaxy, NGC 4594, Has Aspects of Both Round And Disclike Galaxies

It's called the Sombrero galaxy--and no wonder. Whereas some galaxies are round and others (including our Milky Way) are shaped like disks, the one spied by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope is among the first to show characteristics of both types: a round elliptical galaxy with a disk embedded inside, according to a statement released by the space agency.

In other words, the galaxy looks like a wide-brimmed hat.

"The Sombrero is more complex than previously thought," Dimitri Gadotti of the European Southern Observatory in Chile and lead author of a new paper on the galaxy published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. "The only way to understand all we know about this galaxy is to think of it as two galaxies, one inside the

But while it's tempting to think of the sombrero galaxy, aka NGC 4594, as having formed when an elliptical galaxy "swallowed" a spiral disk, astronomers say that's unlikely. Instead, they believe it might have formed when a giant elliptical galaxy was inundated with gas clouds--more than nine billion years ago.

The Sombrero galaxy is located in the constellation Virgo, about 28 million light-years from Earth. It was discovered French astronomer Pierre Méchain in March 1767.

The Spitzer Space Telescope is a space-borne observatory that makes observations in infrared light. It was launched on August 25, 2003.