Lots of stars

I’m being lazy, so here a few pictures of stars (in the form of galaxies, taken by the Hubble; Credit: NASA):


This image shows the galaxy Messier 94, which lies in the small northern constellation of the Hunting Dogs, about 16 million light-years away. Within the bright ring around Messier 94 new stars are forming at a high rate and many young, bright stars are present within it – thanks to this, this feature is called a starburst ring. The cause of this peculiarly shaped star-forming region is likely a pressure wave going outwards from the galactic centre, compressing the gas and dust in the outer region. The compression of material means the gas starts to collapse into denser clouds. Inside these dense clouds, gravity pulls the gas and dust together until temperature and pressure are high enough for stars to be born.

This new NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope shows Messier 96, a spiral galaxy just over 35 million light-years away in the constellation of Leo (The Lion). It is of about the same mass and size as the Milky Way. It was first discovered by astronomer Pierre Méchain in 1781, and added to Charles Messier’s famous catalogue of astronomical objects just four days later. The galaxy resembles a giant maelstrom of glowing gas, rippled with dark dust that swirls inwards towards the nucleus. Messier 96 is a very asymmetric galaxy; its dust and gas is unevenly spread throughout its weak spiral arms, and its core is not exactly at the galactic centre. Its arms are also asymmetrical, thought to have been influenced by the gravitational pull of other galaxies within the same group as Messier 96. This group, named the M96 Group, also includes the bright galaxies Messier 105 and Messier 95, as well as a number of smaller and fainter galaxies. It is the nearest group containing both bright spirals and a bright elliptical galaxy (Messier 105).

The arrangement of the spiral arms in the galaxy Messier 63, seen here in a new image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, recall the pattern at the centre of a sunflower. So the nickname for this cosmic object — the Sunflower Galaxy — is no coincidence. Discovered by Pierre Mechain in 1779, the galaxy later made it as the 63rd entry into fellow French astronomer Charles Messier’s famous catalogue, published in 1781. The two astronomers spotted the Sunflower Galaxy’s glow in the small, northern constellation Canes Venatici (the Hunting Dogs). We now know this galaxy is about 27 million light-years away and belongs to the M51 Group — a group of galaxies, named after its brightest member, Messier 51, another spiral-shaped galaxy dubbed the Whirlpool Galaxy. Galactic arms, sunflowers and whirlpools are only a few examples of nature’s apparent preference for spirals. For galaxies like Messier 63 the winding arms shine bright because of the presence of recently formed, blue–white giant stars, readily seen in this Hubble image.

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