How far away is spiral galaxy NGC 4921? Although presently estimated to be about 310 million light years distant, a more precise determination could be coupled with its known recession speed to help humanity better calibrate the expansion rate of the entire visible universe. Toward this goal, several images were taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in order to help identify key stellar distance markers known as Cepheid variable stars. Since NGC 4921 is a member of the Coma Cluster of Galaxies, refining its distance would also allow a better distance determination to one of the largest nearby clusters in the local universe. The magnificent spiral NGC 4921 has been informally dubbed anemic because of its low rate of star formation and low surface brightness. Visible in the above image are, from the center, a bright nucleus, a bright central bar, a prominent ring of dark dust, blue clusters of recently formed stars, several smaller companion galaxies, unrelated galaxies in the far distant universe, and unrelated stars in our Milky Way Galaxy.
Image Credit: Hubble Legacy Archive, ESA, NASA
Supernovae are intensely bright objects. They are formed when a star reaches the end of its life with a dramatic explosion, expelling most of its material out into space. The subject of this new Hubble image, spiral galaxy NGC 6984, played host to one of these explosions back in 2012, known as SN 2012im. Now, another star has exploded, forming supernova SN 2013ek — visible in this image as the prominent, star-like bright object just slightly above and to the right of the galaxy’s center.
SN 2012im is known as a Type Ic supernova, while the more recent SN 2013ek is a Type Ib. Both of these types are caused by the core collapse of massive stars that have shed — or lost — their outer layers of hydrogen. Type Ic supernovae are thought to have lost more of their outer envelope than Type Ib, including a layer of helium.
The observations that make up this new image were taken on August 19, 2013, and aimed to pinpoint the location of this new explosion more precisely. It is so close to where SN 2012im was spotted that the two events are thought to be linked; the chance of two completely independent supernovae so close together and of the same class exploding within one year of one another is a very unlikely event. It was initially suggested that SN 2013ek may in fact be SN 2012im flaring up again, but further observations support the idea that they are separate supernovae — although they may be closely related in some as-yet-unknown way.
Image Credit: NASA/ESA/Hubble
Lying more than 110 million light-years away from Earth in the constellation of Antlia (The Air Pump) is the spiral galaxy IC 2560, shown here in an image from NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. At this distance it is a relatively nearby spiral galaxy, and is part of the Antlia cluster — a group of over 200 galaxies held together by gravity. This cluster is unusual; unlike most other galaxy clusters, it appears to have no dominant galaxy within it.
In this image, it is easy to spot IC 2560’s spiral arms and barred structure. This spiral is what astronomers call a Seyfert-2 galaxy, a kind of spiral galaxy characterized by an extremely bright nucleus and very strong emission lines from certain elements — hydrogen, helium, nitrogen, and oxygen. The bright center of the galaxy is thought to be caused by the ejection of huge amounts of super-hot gas from the region around a central black hole.
There is a story behind the naming of this quirky constellation — Antlia was originally named antlia pneumatica by French astronomer Abbé Nicolas Louis de Lacaille, in honor of the invention of the air pump in the 17th century.
Credit: Hubble/European Space Agency and NASA
At first glance, this Hubble picture appears to capture two space giants entangled in a fierce celestial battle, with two galaxies entwined and merging to form one. But this shows just how easy it is to misinterpret the jumble of sparkling stars and get the wrong impression — as it’s all down to a trick of perspective.
By chance, these galaxies appear to be aligned from our point of view. In the foreground, the irregular dwarf galaxy PGC 16389 — seen here as a cloud of stars — covers its neighboring galaxy APMBGC 252+125-117, which appears edge-on as a streak. This wide-field image also captures many other more distant galaxies, including a quite prominent face-on spiral towards the right of the picture.
Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, Acknowledgement: Luca Limatola
Astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have solved a 40-year mystery on the origin of the Magellanic Stream, a long ribbon of gas stretching nearly halfway around our Milky Way galaxy.
The Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, two dwarf galaxies orbiting the Milky Way, are at the head of the gaseous stream. Since the stream’s discovery by radio telescopes in the early 1970s, astronomers have wondered whether the gas comes from one or both of the satellite galaxies. New Hubble observations reveal most of the gas was stripped from the Small Magellanic Cloud about 2 billion years ago, and a second region of the stream originated more recently from the Large Magellanic Cloud.
A team of astronomers, led by Andrew J. Fox of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md., determined the source of the gas filament by using Hubble’s Cosmic Origins Spectrograph to measure the amount of heavy elements, such as oxygen and sulfur, at six locations along the Magellanic Stream. They observed faraway quasars, the brilliant cores of active galaxies, that emit light that passes through the stream. They detected the heavy elements from the way the elements absorb ultraviolet light.
Fox’s team found a low amount of oxygen and sulfur along most of the stream, matching the levels in the Small Magellanic Cloud about 2 billion years ago, when the gaseous ribbon is thought to have formed. In a surprising twist, the team discovered a much higher level of sulfur in a region of the stream that is closer to the Magellanic Clouds.
Image Credit: NASA
This striking cosmic whirl is the center of galaxy NGC 524, as seen with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. This galaxy is located in the constellation of Pisces, some 90 million light-years from Earth.
NGC 524 is a lenticular galaxy. Lenticular galaxies are believed to be an intermediate state in galactic evolution — they are neither elliptical nor spiral. Spirals are middle-aged galaxies with vast, pin wheeling arms that contain millions of stars. Along with these stars are large clouds of gas and dust that, when dense enough, are the nurseries where new stars are born. When all the gas is either depleted or lost into space, the arms gradually fade away and the spiral shape begins to weaken. At the end of this process, what remains is a lenticular galaxy — a bright disc full of old, red stars surrounded by what little gas and dust the galaxy has managed to cling on to.
This image shows the shape of NGC 524 in detail, formed by the remaining gas surrounding the galaxy’s central bulge. Observations of this galaxy have revealed that it maintains some spiral-like motion, explaining its intricate structure.
Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, Acknowledgement: Judy Schmidt
The constellation of Virgo (The Virgin) is the largest of the Zodiac constellations, and the second largest overall after Hydra (The Water Snake). Its most appealing feature, however, is the sheer number of galaxies that lie within it. In this picture, among a crowd of face- and edge-on spiral, elliptical, and irregular galaxies, lies NGC 4866, a lenticular galaxy situated about 80 million light-years from Earth.
Lenticular galaxies are somewhere between spirals and ellipticals in terms of shape and properties. From the picture, we can appreciate the bright central bulge of NGC 4866, which contains primarily old stars, but no spiral arms are visible. The galaxy is seen from Earth as almost edge-on, meaning that the disc structure — a feature not present in elliptical galaxies — is clearly visible. Faint dust lanes trace across NGC 4866 in this image, obscuring part of the galaxy’s light.
To the right of the galaxy is a very bright star that appears to lie within NGC 4866’s halo. However, this star actually lies much closer to us; in front of the galaxy, along our line of sight. These kinds of perspective tricks are common when observing, and can initially deceive astronomers as to the true nature and position of objects such as galaxies, stars, and clusters.
This sharp image of NGC 4866 was captured by the Advanced Camera for Surveys, an instrument on the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.
Image Credit: European Space Agency
This striking NASA Hubble Space Telescope image, which shows what looks like the profile of a celestial bird, belies the fact that close encounters between galaxies are a messy business.
This interacting galaxy duo is collectively called Arp 142. The pair contains the disturbed, star-forming spiral galaxy NGC 2936, along with its elliptical companion, NGC 2937 at lower left.
Once part of a flat, spiral disk, the orbits of the galaxy’s stars have become scrambled due to gravitational tidal interactions with the other galaxy. This warps the galaxy’s orderly spiral, and interstellar gas is strewn out into giant tails like stretched taffy.
Gas and dust drawn from the heart of NGC 2936 becomes compressed during the encounter, which in turn triggers star formation. These bluish knots are visible along the distorted arms that are closest to the companion elliptical. The reddish dust, once within the galaxy, has been thrown out of the galaxy’s plane and into dark veins that are silhouetted against the bright starlight from what is left of the nucleus and disk.
The companion elliptical, NGC 2937, is a puffball of stars with little gas or dust present. The stars contained within the galaxy are mostly old, as evidenced by their reddish color. There are no blue stars that would be evidence of recent star formation. While the orbits of this elliptical’s stars may be altered by the encounter, it’s not apparent that the gravitational pull by its neighboring galaxy is having much of an effect.
Image Credit: NASA/ESA/Hubble Heritage Team
The bright clusters and nebulae of planet Earth’s night sky are often named for flowers or insects. Though its wingspan covers over 3 light-years, NGC 6302 is no exception. With an estimated surface temperature of about 250,000 degrees C, the dying central star of this particular planetary nebula has become exceptionally hot, shining brightly in ultraviolet light but hidden from direct view by a dense torus of dust.
This sharp and colorful close-up of the dying star’s nebula was recorded in 2009 by the Hubble Space Telescope’s Wide Field Camera 3, installed during the final shuttle servicing mission. Cutting across a bright cavity of ionized gas, the dust torus surrounding the central star is near the center of this view, almost edge-on to the line-of-sight. Molecular hydrogen has been detected in the hot star’s dusty cosmic shroud. NGC 6302 lies about 4,000 light-years away in the arachnologically correct constellation of the Scorpion (Scorpius).
Image Credit: NASA/ESA/Hubble
This image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope captures an ongoing cosmic collision between two galaxies — a spiral galaxy is in the process of colliding with a lenticular galaxy.
The image also reveals further evidence of the collision. There is a bright stream of stars coming out from the merging galaxies, extending out towards the top of the image. The bright spot in the middle of the plume, known as ESO 576-69, is what makes this image unique. This spot is believed to be the nucleus of the former spiral galaxy, which was ejected from the system during the collision and is now being shredded by tidal forces to produce the visible stellar stream.
Image Credit: European Space Agency/NASA Hubble