Photo of the day: this is the tangled Galaxy Swirl

The Swirl Galaxy, also known as Messier 51 and NGC 5194/5195, is actually a pair of galaxies that affect and distort themselves through gravitational mutual attraction. This peculiar artistic installation is located about 23 million light-years from the Earth in the constellation of Hunting Dogs. It looks like this:

photo-braided-on-galaxy-Whirlpool 1

Now let's look at the photo that was made available by the NASA research center, Jet Propulsion Laboratory . In fact, a few photos, but one by one.

Swirl Galaxy in four scenes

The extreme left panel (A) shows NGC 5194/5195 in visible light. We would see a similar image looking at tangled galaxies through a powerful telescope. Photo (A) comes from a 2.1-meter telescope placed at the Kitt Peak National Observatory. Spiral arms are entwined with dark threads of dust and penetrating here and there with the light emitted by those less bright stars inside the arms or a little behind them.

The second panel from the left (B), also made in Kitt Peak, in turn shows two visible wavelengths (blue and green), but adds infrared data from the Spitzer laboratory in red. It emphasizes how dark the veins of dust blocking our view in visible light.

Going further, in the next panel (C) we see three wavelengths of infrared light: 3.6 micron (shown in blue), 4.5 micron (green) and 8 micron (red). Mixed light from billions of stars in the Galaxy. The vortex is the brightest at shorter infrared wavelengths and is seen here as a blue mist. The blue dots in the image are mainly nearby stars and a few distant galaxies.

The red features, in turn, show us the dust consisting mainly of carbon, which is illuminated by stars in the galaxy. This glowing dust helps astronomers see where denser gas areas accumulate in the spaces between stars. Dense gas clouds are difficult to see in visible or infrared light, but they will always be present where there is stardust.

The extreme right panel (D) expands our infrared view to include 24 micron light (red), which is particularly good for highlighting areas where galactic dust is particularly hot. Bright, reddish-white spots track the regions in which new stars are formed that significantly increase the ambient temperature.

Differences between entangled galaxies are best seen in infrared

The infrared view also shows how dramatically different are its two components: the smaller galaxy accompanying the top of the image has been deprived of almost cosmic dust, which is clearly visible in the lower spiral galaxy. The dim bluish mists visible around the upper galaxy are probably the mixed light of stars ejected from the galaxies as a result of their mutual attraction.

All data presented here was published as part of the Spitzer Infrared Nearby Galaxies Survey (SINGS) project. This project, in addition to the beautiful postcards from space, allows astronomers to search for the most interesting regions in distant galaxies, which are then isolated and subjected to more accurate observations, thanks to which we learn about other promising planet-like exoplanets.

Photo of the day: this is the tangled Galaxy Swirl


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