NASA released six new, shimmering images of galaxies spotted by the agency’s Hubble Space Telescope last week.
Many of them millions of light-years away from Earth, the images help researchers better understand star formation and evolution, supernovae and other cosmic phenomena.
Hubble has made about 1.5 million observations in the more than three decades that it’s been trained on the cosmos, according to NASA. The telescope is designed to take in visible and ultraviolet light, plus a short stretch of the infrared spectrum.
Hubble orbits our planet from 340 miles above the surface. It’s capable of capturing light emitted from celestial objects that would otherwise be thwarted by Earth’s atmosphere and rendered unavailable to telescopes that make their observations from the ground, the agency said.
Different types of light offer different clues about distant celestial objects. Visible and ultraviolet light reveal closer phenomena, while infrared offers a glimpse at more distant objects, according to NASA. The James Webb Space Telescope, Hubble’s latest counterpart, takes in mid- and near-infrared light, which allows it to see some of the oldest and most distant phenomena in the universe.
Here’s a look at the recent Hubble images released in honor of “galaxy week.”
A Virgo cluster galaxy
This intermediate spiral galaxy — dubbed NGC 4654 — is located in the constellation Virgo about 55 million light-years from Earth. Skygazers in the Northern Hemisphere, and in most of the Southern Hemisphere, can spot it from Earth.
Like other Virgo cluster galaxies, NGC 4654 has “an asymmetric distribution of stars and neutral hydrogen gas,” according to NASA. The agency noted that this galaxy and others like it are useful for researchers to help understand the connection between young stars and cold gas, which those stars require in order to form in the first place.
A rare radio galaxy
Lenticular galaxies like this one — dubbed NGC 612 — lack the arms of spiral galaxies but share the same central bulge and disk, according to NASA. This galaxy, located in the Sculptor constellation, is around 400 million light-years away from Earth, and amateur astronomers in the Southern Hemisphere can see it.
NGC 612 is a non-elliptical radio galaxy, which means it “shows significant radio emissions” — researchers have discovered only five others like it, the agency said. There are a couple theories as to why it emits those radio waves, but this type of imaging is aimed at helping astronomers solve that mystery.
A supermassive black hole dwells at the center of this galaxy
Located in the Cephus constellation, this intermediate spiral galaxy — dubbed NGC 6951 — has had a long and storied past. It reached peak star formation around 800 million years ago but went quiet for 300 million years before it once again started generating new stars, according to NASA. The galaxy is 78 million light-years away from Earth and can be spotted from the Northern Hemisphere.
The supermassive black hole at the center of NGC 6951 is surrounded by a “circumnuclear ring” composed of stars, gas and dust that’s been around for 1 to 1.5 billion years, the agency said. NASA also noted that researchers have counted six supernovae in this galaxy over the past quarter century, and that studying it can help shed light on the cosmic environments that produce that phenomenon.
In this galaxy, colors tell a story
This barred spiral galaxy — dubbed NGC 1087 — is located in the constellation Cetus. The image’s various colors tell a story: The red indicates the cold molecular gas from which stars emerge, the pink signals areas where new stars are forming and the blue regions show “hot, young stars formed earlier in the lifetime of this galaxy,” according to NASA. It’s 80 million light-years away from Earth and is visible across the planet.
Although barred galaxies usually see “a burst of star formation followed by a slow decay,” NGC 1087 piques researchers’ interest because it indicates ongoing new star formation, the agency said. This galaxy can also help shed light on the interplay between young stars and cold gas, NASA noted, plus “what happens to gaseous regions after stars are formed within them.”
A rosy barred spiral galaxy
Another barred spiral galaxy, NGC 5068 has a lot of interstellar dust and “thousands of star-forming regions,” according to NASA. It’s located in the Virgo constellation about 20 million light-years away from Earth, and because the galaxy has a fairly low surface brightness, it’s hard to see with the naked eye.
The pinkish-red regions line the galaxy’s spiral arms and signal ionized hydrogen gas, which are home to young star clusters, the agency said. The James Webb Space Telescope released an infrared image of NGC 5068 this summer, NASA noted, in an effort to study “star formation in gaseous regions of nearby galaxies.”
Swirling blue arms shimmer in this galaxy
NGC 685, yet another barred spiral galaxy, is slightly more than half the size of our galaxy, the Milky Way, according to NASA. It’s located around 58 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Eridanus and, depending on the time of year, it can sometimes be seen from the Southern Hemisphere.
The bright blue spots along its arms signal star clusters that are held together by gravity, while reddish ones indicate the interstellar gas and dust that stars need to form, the agency said.