August 08, 2014
Red clouds of gas are speckled among the stars of a relatively nearby galaxy that shines in an incredible new image, one of the most detailed wide-angle views ever taken of the cosmic object.
M33, the Triangulum Galaxy, taken by the VLT Survey Telescope at the European Southern Observatory’s Paranal Observatory in Chile. The picture reveals gassy regions, shown in red.
The photo, taken by a telescope in Chile, puts the Triangulum Galaxy (also called M33, or NGC 598) on display. Embedded in the spiral galaxy is a giant nebula, or gas cloud, called NGC 604. The nebula is about 1,500 light-years across and is about 40 times larger than the Orion Nebula — a well-known star forming hotspot that is closer to Earth.
“A closer look at this beautiful new picture not only allows a very detailed inspection of the star-forming spiral arms of the galaxy, but also reveals the very rich scenery of the more distant galaxies scattered behind the myriad stars and glowing clouds of NGC 598,” representatives of the European Southern Observatory said in a statement.
The new image, released by ESO, was taken by the VLT Survey Telescope located at ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile. Star clusters and dust also glow in the newly-released picture.
M33 is 3 million light-years from Earth and is the second-closest large galaxy to Earth. (The Andromeda Galaxy is the closest large one.) NGC 598 is located in the northern constellation Triangulum and is just visible to the naked eye during a dark night. The galaxy is also speeding towards our own Milky Way at 62,000 mph (100,000 km/h) .
A wide view of the Triangulum Galaxy more than 3 million light-years from the Milky Way.
Credit: ESO/Digitized Sky Survey 2. Acknowledgement: Davide De Martin
“This picture was created from many individual exposures, including some taken through a filter passing just the light from glowing hydrogen, which make the red gas clouds in the galaxies spiral arms especially prominent,” ESO representatives said in a statement.
The letter “M” stands for “Messier”, after the catalog by French astronomer Charles Messier who created a database of objects to help him distinguish them from comets. Astronomers believe M33 was first documented in the 1600s by Sicilian astronomer Giovanni Battista Hodierna.
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This is a Hubble Space Telescope image (right) of a vast nebula called NGC 604, which lies in the neighboring spiral galaxy M33, located 2.7 million light-years away in the constellation Triangulum. This is a site where new stars are being born in a spiral arm of the galaxy. Though such nebulae are common in galaxies, this one is particularly large, nearly 1,500 light-years across. The nebula is so vast it is easily seen in ground-based telescopic images (left). At the heart of NGC 604 are over 200 hot stars, much more massive than our Sun (15 to 60 solar masses). They heat the gaseous walls of the nebula making the gas fluoresce. Their light also highlights the nebula’s three-dimensional shape, like a lantern in a cavern. By studying the physical structure of a giant nebula, astronomers may determine how clusters of massive stars affect the evolution of the interstellar medium of the galaxy. The nebula also yields clues to its star formation history and will improve understanding of the starburst process when a galaxy undergoes a “firestorm” of star formation. The image was taken on January 17, 1995 with Hubble’s Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2. Separate exposures were taken in different colors of light to study the physical properties of the hot gas (17,000 degrees Fahrenheit, 10,000 degrees Kelvin.
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