Wednesday, April 23, 2014

A Beautiful Pinwheel of a Galaxy

A Beautiful Pinwheel of a Galaxy

Taking a break from all the heavy-duty science news for a minute, I want to share a beautiful recent image with you from the Hubble Space Telescope.  What you see on our photo is a large part of a spiral shaped galaxy (or island) of stars, known by its catalog number M83. It is about 15 million light years away in the  constellation of Hydra, the water snake.  

M83 contains billions upon billions of stars and quite a bit of gas and dust -- the cosmic raw material from which new stars, new planets, and perhaps even new Facebook fans can form.

This remarkably detailed image emphasizes the pinkish-red regions that are glowing clusters (or groups) of young stars, seen on the edges of the galaxy's spiral arms.  Actually, the young (adolescent) stars in these clusters glow so hot, they give off not just the light our eyes can see, but also energetic ultraviolet light.  The left-over gas that still surrounds these new star groups (in a way, the womb that gave birth to them) then is set to glow.   The excited gas -- mostly the cheapest, simplest element in the universe, hydrogen -- glows with a characteristic pinkish red.

Just look at all the pinkish glow!  That is to say, see all the new stars that we can see having been born recently -- at least recently on the cosmic time scale, or somewhere between 1 to 10 million years ago.  Like most of our cities in the spring and summer, there is still lots of construction going on in such galaxies.