Hubble Space Telescope spots eerie galaxy 'eye' staring across the universe

NGC 1097 as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope.
NGC 1097 as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope. (Image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, D. Sand, K. Sheth)

A new Hubble Space Telescope clearly captures the heart of a distant galaxy structured much like our own.

The new image shows the "eye" of a galaxy called NGC 1097, which is located 48 million light-years away from Earth. NGC 1097 is a barred spiral galaxy, which puts it in the same category as the Milky Way.

"This picture reveals the intricacy of the web of stars and dust at NGC 1097's center, with the long tendrils of dust picked out in a dark red hue," officials from the European Space Agency, which is a partner on the Hubble Space Telescope project, said in a statement (opens in new tab).

Related: The best Hubble Space Telescope images of all time!

Two instruments aboard Hubble helped contribute to the high-definition view: the Wide Field Camera 3 and the Advanced Camera for Surveys. (The latter instrument just celebrated 20 years in space after installation during a 2002 servicing mission to the observatory.)

The stunning new image relies on Hubble's ability to see in both visual and infrared (heat-seeking) wavelengths of light, rather than only the light that a human eye can detect.

The two cameras are each optimized for a specific set of wavelengths, and the image was composed "using seven different filters in total" across the instruments, ESA officials explained. The image is then colorized in visual wavelengths for public release.

Other observations of NGC 1097, for example, have allowed astronomers to assess the power of its black hole. Back in 2015, for example, tracking the movements of two types of molecular gases around the galaxy's center allowed researchers to estimate the galaxy's black hole has the mass of 140 million suns. The Milky Way, by contrast, is about 4 million suns or so.

Further out in space, the recently launched James Webb Space Telescope will soon be doing observations of its own concerning galaxies, to learn more about their structure and evolution.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. Elizabeth's reporting includes an exclusive with Office of the Vice-President of the United States, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, 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 (soon) a Bachelor of History from Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. 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