Monday, October 04, 2010

An Elegant Galaxy in an Unusual Light

An Elegant Galaxy in an Unusual Light (9/22/10)
A new image taken with the powerful HAWK-I camera on ESO’s Very Large Telescope at Paranal Observatory in Chile shows the beautiful barred spiral galaxy NGC 1365 in infrared light. NGC 1365 is a member of the Fornax cluster of galaxies, and lies about 60 million light-years from Earth. ...

The new infrared images from HAWK-I are less affected by the dust that obscures parts of the galaxy than images in visible light and they reveal very clearly the glow from vast numbers of stars in both the bar and the spiral arms. These data were acquired to help astronomers understand the complex flow of material within the galaxy and how it affects the reservoirs of gas from which new stars can form. The huge bar disturbs the shape of the gravitational field of the galaxy and this leads to regions where gas is compressed and star formation is triggered. Many huge young star clusters trace out the main spiral arms and each contains hundreds or thousands of bright young stars that are less than ten million years old. The galaxy is too remote for single stars to be seen in this image and most of the tiny clumps visible in the picture are really star clusters. Over the whole galaxy, stars are forming at a rate of about three times the mass of our Sun per year.

While the bar of the galaxy consists mainly of older stars long past their prime, many new stars are born in stellar nurseries of gas and dust in the inner spiral close to the nucleus. The bar also funnels gas and dust gravitationally into the very centre of the galaxy, where astronomers have found evidence for the presence of a super-massive black hole, well hidden among myriads of intensely bright new stars.

NGC 1365 – click for 1280×1271 image

More: here, here, here


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