Hubble peered over 150 million gentle years to map this galaxy

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This image shows the spiral galaxy NGC 5037 in the constellation Virgo. The galaxy was first documented by William Herschel in 1785 and is about 150 million light years from Earth. Despite this distance, we can see the fine structures of gas and dust within the galaxy in extraordinary detail. This detail is possible with the Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) from Hubble, whose combined recordings created this image. ESA / Hubble & NASA, D. Rosario; Acknowledgments: L. Shatz

This week’s treat from the Hubble Space Telescope is an image of the spiral galaxy NGC 5037, located about 150 million light years away. The vortices of dust and gas swirling around the galactic center create a dramatic image that contrasts the galaxy with the blackness of the space beyond. Although the galaxy has a very bright central area known as the active galaxy core, most of the light that comes out of this area is obscured by the dust surrounding it.

This galaxy is part of the Virgo Cluster, a group of galaxies in the constellation Virgo. There are up to 2,000 galaxies in this cluster, including the famous Messier 87 galaxy, from which the historical first image of a black hole was taken. Astronomers have ways of grouping galaxies in order to organize them, with the cluster being one such grouping. Above the cluster is a group called the Supercluster – the Virgo Supercluster contains 100 galaxy groups, including both the Virgo Cluster and the Local Group. The Local Group is the group that our Milky Way galaxy is in along with its satellite galaxies and the Andromeda galaxy.

To see as far as the galaxy NGC 5037, Hubble used its Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) – the instrument that captured many of the telescope’s most famous images. “WFC3 is a very versatile camera because it can collect ultraviolet, visible and infrared light and thus provides a wealth of information about the objects being observed,” write the Hubble scientists.

“WFC3 was installed on Hubble by astronauts in 2009 during Maintenance Mission 4, Hubble’s fifth and final maintenance mission. Service Mission 4 was supposed to extend Hubble’s life for another five years. 12 years later, both Hubble and WFC3 remain in active use! “

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