Skip to main content

Hubble telescope looks deep into the Needle's Eye in this dwarf spiral galaxy photo

Hubble Space Telescope photo of part of the spiral galaxy Needle’s Eye (NGC 247 and Caldwell 62).
A zoomed-in view of a section of the Needle's Eye, a dwarf spiral galaxy known as NGC 247, in this newly released Hubble Space Telescope view. (Image credit: NASA, ESA, and H. Feng (Tsinghua University); Image processing: G. Kober (NASA Goddard/Catholic University of America))

A fresh image from the Hubble Space Telescope shows a deep view of the eye of a galactic needle.

The spiral galaxy is nicknamed the "Needle's Eye", although more officially it is known as NGC 247 and Caldwell 62. NASA said (opens in new tab) May 10 the nickname is appropriate given this galaxy is a dwarf spiral, making it a relatively small group of stars compared to our own Milky Way.

The Hubble Space Telescope image portrays a hole on the other side of the galaxy, which NASA said puzzles astronomers. "There is a shortage of gas in that part of the galaxy, which means there isn’t much material from which new stars can form," the agency wrote.

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

A wider view of the Needle's Eye galaxy as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope. (Image credit: NASA, ESA, and H. Feng (Tsinghua University); Image processing: G. Kober (NASA Goddard/Catholic University of America))

"Since star formation has halted in this area, old, faint stars populate the void. Scientists still don’t know how this strange feature formed, but studies hint toward past gravitational interactions with another galaxy," the agency added.

The hole is not the only mystery this galaxy holds. 

Below the disk of the galaxy, you can spit a few more smaller and distant galaxies beyond the Needle's Eye marker of 11 million light-years, a relatively close distance to us in galactic terms. But learning about those faraway galaxies is something astronomers are also trying to do.

"Bright red indicates areas of high-density gas and dust, and robust star formation rather close to the edge of the galaxy," NASA said. There's also a bright foreground star that happens to be in the field of view.

Embedded in the heart of the galaxy is an ultraluminous X-ray source, too, but it is unclear where that came from.

"Are they stellar-mass black holes gorging on unusually large amounts of gas? Or are they long-sought 'intermediate-mass' black holes, dozens of times more massive than their stellar counterparts but smaller than the monster black holes in the centers of most galaxies?" NASA asked.

Independent studies of the galaxy using other forms of light, such as X-rays with NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, suggest the X-rays are coming from an intermediate-mass black hole's disk. But more studies will be required to decide for sure what is going on.

Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace (opens in new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) or Facebook. 

Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at: community@space.com.

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.