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Hubble Telescope Reveals What 200 Billion Stars Look Like (Photos)

The Hubble Space Telescope captured this image of a galaxy called Messier 49, which contains about 200 billion stars.
The Hubble Space Telescope captured this image of a galaxy called Messier 49, which contains about 200 billion stars. (Image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, J. Blakenslee, P. Cote et al.)

Two incredible new images from the Hubble Space Telescope show galaxies in all their shining glory.

The first photograph, of a galaxy called Messier 49, includes some 200 billion stars, although there's no way to pick out most of the individual pinpricks of light within the image.

Most of the stars within this elliptical galaxy are about 6 billion years old, and those within its 6,000-odd globular star clusters are even older. And then there's the supermassive black hole at the heart of Messier 49, which contains the mass of 500 million suns. It's all quite a lot to fit in just one image, even an image of an object 56 million light-years away. 

The Hubble Space Telescope captured this image of a cluster called Messier 28. (Image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, J.E. Grindlay et al.)

Both this galaxy and that shown in the second new image, Messier 28, were first categorized by astronomer Charles Messier, although he wasn't always sure what he was seeing. That's because he didn't have the benefit of Hubble's view from beyond Earth's atmosphere, which produces much sharper photographs.

Sharp like this picture of the stunning globular star cluster, Messier 28, which looks like a smear of light near the constellation Sagittarius when viewed from Earth. Messier 28 is also much closer than Messier 49 is, at just 18,000 light-years away from Earth. So, unburdened by atmospheric interference, Hubble can pick out Messier 28's individual stars in stunning detail.

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Meghan Bartels
SPACE.COM SENIOR WRITER — Meghan is a science journalist based in New York City. She joined Space.com in July 2018, with previous writing published in outlets including Newsweek and Audubon. Meghan earned an MA in science journalism from New York University and a BA in classics from Georgetown University, and in her free time she enjoys reading and visiting museums. Follow her on Twitter at @meghanbartels.