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Hubble telescope spots stunning 'Hidden Galaxy' hiding behind our own Milky Way

This new view of the spiral galaxy IC 342, also known as Caldwell 5, as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope was released by NASA on May 11, 2022. Seen here is a zoomed-in view. (Image credit: NASA, ESA, P. Sell (University of Florida), and P. Kaaret (University of Iowa); Image processing: G. Kober (NASA Goddard/Catholic University of America))

Behold the "Hidden Galaxy" coming into view.

This glorious Hubble Space Telescope image showcases spiral galaxy IC 342, also known as Caldwell 5. No matter what you call this galaxy, scientists have had some difficulty observing it due to obstacles in the way, earning it its "hidden" nickname, according to NASA.

"It appears near the equator of the Milky Way's pearly disk, which is crowded with thick cosmic gas, dark dust, and glowing stars that all obscure our view," NASA wrote in a May 11 statement (opens in new tab).

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

The Hubble Space Telescope's full view of the spiral galaxy IC 342, aka Caldwell 5. The galaxy is 11 million light-years away and 50,000 light-years across. (Image credit: NASA, ESA, P. Sell (University of Florida), and P. Kaaret (University of Iowa); Image processing: G. Kober (NASA Goddard/Catholic University of America))

Hubble can peer through the debris, to an extent, as the telescope does have infrared capabilities. Infrared light is less scattered by dust and allows a clearer view of the galaxy in behind the interstellar matter.

"This sparkling, face-on view of the center of the galaxy displays intertwined tendrils of dust in spectacular arms that wrap around a brilliant core of hot gas and stars," NASA wrote of the picture.

"This core is a specific type of region called an H II nucleus — an area of atomic hydrogen that has become ionized. Such regions are energetic birthplaces of stars where thousands of stars can form over a couple million years."

The blue stars ionize or energize the hydrogen surrounding their birthplaces due to emitting ultraviolet light, NASA said. The galaxy would be one of the brightest galaxies in our sky if there was not so much dust in the way.

IC 342 is also relatively close in galactic terms, only 11 million light-years from Earth. It's about half the diameter of our own Milky Way (50,000 light-years across), making it relatively large, too.

Hubble has been in space for a generation and has photographed this galaxy several times before. You can also spot its imaging of IC 342 in 2017 (opens in new tab) and 2010 (opens in new tab).

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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. As a proud Trekkie and Canadian, she also tackles topics like diversity, science fiction, astronomy and gaming to help others explore the universe. Elizabeth's on-site reporting includes two human spaceflight launches from Kazakhstan, three space shuttle missions in Florida, and embedded reporting from a simulated Mars mission in Utah. She holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, and a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Her latest book, Leadership Moments from NASA, is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday.