A new set of cosmic photos peers through obscuring clouds of dust and gas to reveal six faraway spiral galaxies in all their glory.
The pictures were captured by the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope in Chile with the help of a powerful new infrared camera called HAWK-I. Glowing dust often blurs or hides details of galactic structure in the visible part of the light spectrum, but finer features can shine through in the infrared, ESO officials said. [New photos of all six galaxies.]
The images may help astronomers understand how the patterns in spiral galaxies form and evolve, researchers said.
This photo shows NGC 5247, located about 65 million light-years away in the constellation Virgo (the Maiden). The galaxy, dominated by two huge arms, appears face-on toward Earth, providing an excellent view of its pinwheel structure.
HAWK-I also captured the galaxy Messier 100, also known as NGC 4321. It is a "grand design" spiral galaxy, meaning it has very prominent and well-defined spiral arms. About 55 million light-years from Earth, Messier 100 is part of the Virgo Cluster of galaxies and lies in the constellation Coma Berenices ("Berenice's Hair," named after the ancient Egyptian queen Berenice II).
The arms of the galaxy NGC 1300 extend from the ends of a prominent central bar. NGC 1300 is a prototypical example of a barred spiral galaxy, researchers said. It lies about 65 million light-years from Earth, in the constellation Eridanus (the River).
The galaxy NGC 4030 is about 75 million light-years from Earth, in Virgo. In 2007, Takao Doi, a Japanese astronaut who doubles as an amateur astronomer, spotted an exploding star, or supernova, in NGC 4030.
The spiral galaxy NGC 2997 is roughly 30 million light-years away in the constellation Antlia (the Air Pump). NGC 2997 is the brightest member of the NGC 2997 group in the Local Supercluster of galaxies, researchers said. Our own Local Group, of which the Milky Way is a member, is itself part of the Local Supercluster.
This picture shows the galaxy NGC 1232, which sits about 65 million light-years away in Eridanus. It's classified as an intermediate spiral galaxy somewhere between a barred and an unbarred spiral galaxy.
HAWK-I (which stands for High-Acuity Wide-field K-band Imager) is one of the newest and most powerful cameras on ESO's Very Large Telescope, part of the Paranal Observatory in Chile. Because HAWK-I can study galaxies stripped bare of the confusing effects of dust and glowing gas, it is ideal for studying the vast numbers of stars that make up spiral arms, researchers said.
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