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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

Elizabeth Howell is a contributing writer for who is one of the few Canadian journalists to report regularly on space exploration. She is the author or co-author of several books on space exploration. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. from the University of North Dakota in Space Studies, and an M.Sc. from the same department. She also holds a bachelor of journalism degree from Carleton University in Canada, where she began her space-writing career in 2004. Besides writing, Elizabeth teaches communications at the university and community college level, and for government training schools. To see her latest projects, follow Elizabeth on Twitter at @howellspace.