Sunday, December 10, 2006

A starburst galaxy

VLT Image of Starburst Galaxy NGC 1313 (11/23/06)
This FORS image of the central parts of NGC 1313 shows a stunning natural beauty. The galaxy bears some resemblance to some of the Milky Way's closest neighbours, the Magellanic Clouds. NGC 1313 has a barred spiral shape, with the arms emanating outwards in a loose twist from the ends of the bar. The galaxy lies just 15 million light-years away from the Milky Way - a mere skip on cosmological scales. The spiral arms are a hotbed of star-forming activity, with numerous young clusters of hot stars being born continuously at a staggering rate out of the dense clouds of gas and dust. Their light blasts through the surrounding gas, creating an intricately beautiful pattern of light and dark nebulosity.

But NGC 1313 is not just a pretty picture. A mere scratch beneath the elegant surface reveals evidence of some of the most puzzling problems facing astronomers in the science of stars and galaxies. Starburst galaxies are fascinating objects to study in their own right; in neighbouring galaxies, around one quarter of all massive stars are born in these powerful engines, at rates up to a thousand times higher than in our own Milky Way Galaxy.

NGC 1313 - Click for 1280×1157 image

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