Saturday, December 08, 2007

Messier 74 - NGC 628

NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image of the nearby spiral galaxy Messier 74 (11/29/07)
In the new Hubble image we can also see a smattering of bright pink regions decorating the spiral arms. These are huge, relatively short-lived, clouds of hydrogen gas which glow due to the strong radiation from hot, young stars embedded within them; glowing pink regions of ionized hydrogen (hydrogen that has lost its electrons). These regions of star formation show an excess of light at ultraviolet wavelengths and astronomers call them HII regions.

Tracing along the spiral arms are winding dust lanes that begin very near the galaxy’s nucleus and follow along the length of the spiral arms. These spiral arms are not actually static ‘arms’ like spokes on a wheel. They are in fact density waves and move around the galaxy’s disc compressing gas – just as sound waves compress the air on Earth – creating a new generation of young blue stars.

Messier 74 (NGC 628) – click for 1280×1024 image


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