This sky full of stars from the Hubble Space Telescope is, to quote Coldplay, a heavenly view.
It’s a galactic image from the telescope’s Wide Field Camera 3 and Advanced Camera for Surveys, focusing on NGC 3631. The spiral arms of the “Grand Design Spiral”, as this object is nicknamed, are absolutely brimming with starbirth.
The color blue represents visible wavelengths of blue, and orange is showcasing infrared or heat-rich areas that are otherwise difficult to see due to dust in the way.
“Star formation in spiral [galaxies] is similar to a traffic jam on the interstate,” NASA said in a statement (opens in new tab) about the new image on May 26.
“Like cars on the highway, slower moving matter in the spiral’s disk creates a bottleneck, concentrating star-forming gas and dust along the inner part of their spiral arms. This traffic jam of matter can get so dense that it gravitationally collapses, creating new stars — here seen in bright blue-white.”
This image from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope features the Grand Design Spiral, more officially known as NGC 3631. (Image credit: NASA, ESA, A. Filippenko (University of California – Berkeley), and D. Sand (University of Arizona); Image Processing: G. Kober (NASA Goddard/Catholic University of America)) (opens in new tab)
Hubble’s galactic research includes fields such as learning about dark matter concentrations, which help to give hints of the universe’s structure overall, along with galaxy collisions, formation scenarios and types, according to a NASA page (opens in new tab) showcasing the science of the telescope.
“From supermassive black holes at galactic centers to giant bursts of star formation to titanic collisions between galaxies, these discoveries allow astronomers to probe the current properties of galaxies as well as examine how they formed and developed over time,” NASA stated in the science explainer.
Hubble’s 32 years of research in orbit will soon get a deep-space companion. The James Webb Space Telescope is completing its commissioning at Lagrange 2 to extend Hubble’s work even deeper into the universe.
“Galaxies show us how the matter in the universe is organized on large scales. In order to understand the nature and history of the universe, scientists study how the matter is currently organized and how that organization has changed through out cosmic time,” NASA officials wrote (opens in new tab) of Webb’s expected work, which will focus on the earliest galaxies of our universe.
Some of the Webb Cycle 1 studies (opens in new tab) for galaxies will focus on matters such as star formation, early galaxies with “low metallicity” (rich in hydrogen and helium), dwarf spheroidal galaxies, and the famous, nearby Andromeda Galaxy (M31) system of satellite galaxies.