Spiral Galaxy Glows in Breathtaking Telescope Photos, Video

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.

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.

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. (Image credit: ESO)

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. (Image 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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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for Space.com for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace