Dazzling New Hubble Pics Of Beloved Spiral Galaxy Messier 77
March 28, 2013

Hubble Captures Stunning New Images Of Popular Spiral Galaxy

Watch the videos "Panning Across Messier 77" and "Zooming in on Messier 77"

Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

A stunning new image of the spiral galaxy Messier 77 captured by the Hubble Space Telescope was released today. The image of one of the most famous and well-studied galaxies features patches of red throughout the photo, which highlights the pockets of star formation along its arms.

Messier 77, or NGC 1068, sits in the constellation Cetus about 45 million light-years away from us. It has had more papers written about it than most other galaxies put together.

NGC 1068 has also been misidentified on several occasions, including in 1780 when the French astronomer Pierre Méchain labeled it as a nebula. It was misclassified again later on and labeled as a star cluster.

The infamous barred spiral galaxy features loosely wound arms and a small central bulge. It is the closest and brightness example of a class of galaxies known as Seyfert galaxies, which are full of hot, highly ionized gas that glows brightly.

Messier 77 also features strong radiation caused by a very active, very large black hole that is about 15 million times the mass of the Sun. Material around the black hole is dragged towards it and circles around it, heating up and glowing strongly. This region of a galaxy can be tens of thousands of times brighter than a typical galaxy.

The red clumps seen around Messier 77's spiral arms are a signal that new stars are forming. These stars shine a deep red color in the new Hubble image. The dust lanes seen in the picture appear brown-red due to a phenomenon known as reddening, which occurs when dust absorbs more blue light than red light, thus enhancing its redness.

Hubble scientists have tried to get astronomy enthusiasts involved in helping to discover the many hidden things in the space telescope's images by creating a competition called "Hidden Treasures." The competition enlists amateur sky gazers who want to sift through the Hubble archive for images that have never been seen by the general public before. Last year, Andre van der Hoeven of the Netherlands won second place with this image of Messier 77.

“Well, this was my hardest job until now,” van der Hoeven said in a caption with the image. “Combining the different datasets to get equal colors was really hard. M77 was not fully covered by one dataset, so I had to combine channels of the WFPC2 with different wavelengths and tune the colors to get them to fit. But the result is in my opinion quite astonishing. Unbelievable this one was not released before.”

The first place winner of the contest, Josh Lake, submitted an image of NGC 1763, which is part of the star forming region in the Large Magellanic Cloud.