This Awesome Spiral Galaxy View from Hubble May Help Demystify Black Holes

Scientists imaged the spiral galaxy NGC 2903 as part of a study to understand supermassive black holes. (Image credit: ESA/Hubble and NASA, L. Ho et al.)

NASA and the European Space Agency's long-running Hubble Space Telescope just produced an amazing close-up of a spiral galaxy, similar to our own Milky Way. The image will help researchers understand more about supermassive black holes in large galaxies.

The new picture shows a dusty, orange-red environment studded with purple stars, glowing amid dust trails in black.This particular spiral galaxy is called NGC 2903 and is located about 30 million light-years from Earth, in the constellation of Leo. (A light-year is the distance that light travels in a year, which is 6 trillion miles, or 10 trillion kilometers.) While 30 million light-years is a long way from home, on the cosmic scale, it doesn't even go very far in our own neighborhood. 

Hubble obtained the new image while studying the central regions of roughly 145 disk galaxies that are relatively near Earth, European Space Agency officials said in a statement. The new work aims to help astronomers understand more about the supermassive black holes that lurk in the center of many galaxies, including our own barred spiral galaxy. The researchers also are interested in learning about the relationship between these black holes and the bulges of dust, gas and stars that commonly cluster near the centers of galaxies.

Hubble launched on a space shuttle flight in 1990 and has undergone several servicing missions from astronauts since then, with the last one taking place in 2009. The telescope is expected to keep operating into the 2020s, and a successor observatory, called the James Webb Space Telescope, is scheduled for launch in 2021.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, 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 a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: