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Hubble telescope shows the sparkling side of a spiral galaxy

UGC 11537
The spiral galaxy UGC 11537 is 230 million light-years away in the constellation Aquila. (Image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, A. Seth)

A new Hubble Space Telescope image of a spiral galaxy shows sparkling stars, including a couple that snuck into the foreground.

The telescope captured UGC 11537, a galaxy 230 million light-years away in the constellation Aquila; the galaxy sits at almost 10 times the distance to the spectacular Andromeda Galaxy (M31) that is just barely visible by the naked eye in Earth's sky.

Because UGC 11537 is close to the plane of the Milky Way where most of our galaxy's stars reside, two starry interlopers closer to home snuck into the image, the European Space Agency stated in late November (opens in new tab).

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

"The spikes surrounding these stars are imaging artifacts, called diffraction spikes. They are the result of starlight interacting with the structure that supports Hubble’s secondary mirror," ESA added in its description.

The spiral galaxy's image came during a larger search for supermassive black holes embedded in the heart of these star structures. The study is using Hubble, along with observations from ground-based telescopes, to measure the mass and motions of stars in galaxies like UGC 11537. These metrics will help estimate the mass of the supermassive black holes, ESA said.

Hubble's image came courtesy of data from its Wide Field Camera 3. On Oct. 26, a synchronization error sidelined the camera and other Hubble instruments and put the 31-year-old observatory into safe mode. Engineers adapted the observatory's schedule and carefully put each instrument back online, completing the process on Monday (Dec. 6).

A successor telescope to Hubble, called the James Webb Space Telescope, is expected to fly to space on Dec. 22 after years of technical and funding delays. Since Hubble is expected to keep operating well into the 2020s, the two observatories will work together on at least some investigations in the coming years, according to NASA.

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Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) since 2012. As a proud Trekkie and Canadian, she tackles topics like spaceflight, diversity, science fiction, astronomy and gaming to help others explore the universe. Elizabeth's on-site reporting includes two human spaceflight launches from Kazakhstan, and embedded reporting from a simulated Mars mission in Utah. She holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc (opens in new tab). in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, and a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University. Her latest book, NASA Leadership Moments, 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.