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An Abrasive Collision Gives One Galaxy A "Black Eye"

  • Full Size Image
    This image of M64 was taken with Hubble's Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2) in 2001. The color image is a composite prepared by the Hubble Heritage Team from pictures taken through four different color filters. These filters isolate blue and near-infrared light, along with red light emitted by hydrogen atoms and green light from Str=F6mgren y. Image Credit: NASA and The Hubble Heritage Team (AURA/STScI) Acknowledgment: S. Smartt (Institute of Astronomy) and D. Richstone (U. Michigan)
  • Baltimore - Feb 09, 2004
    A collision of two galaxies has left a merged star system with an unusual appearance as well as bizarre internal motions. Messier 64 (M64) has a spectacular dark band of absorbing dust in front of the galaxy's bright nucleus, giving rise to its nicknames of the "Black Eye" or "Evil Eye" galaxy.

    Fine details of the dark band are revealed in this image of the central portion of M64 obtained with the Hubble Space Telescope. M64 is well known among amateur astronomers because of its appearance in small telescopes. It was first cataloged in the 18th century by the French astronomer Messier. Located in the northern constellation Coma Berenices, M64 resides roughly 17 million light-years from Earth.

    At first glance, M64 appears to be a fairly normal pinwheel-shaped spiral galaxy. As in the majority of galaxies, all of the stars in M64 are rotating in the same direction, clockwise as seen in the Hubble image. However, detailed studies in the 1990's led to the remarkable discovery that the interstellar gas in the outer regions of M64 rotates in the opposite direction from the gas and stars in the inner regions.

    Active formation of new stars is occurring in the shear region where the oppositely rotating gases collide, are compressed, and contract. Particularly noticeable in the image are hot, blue young stars that have just formed, along with pink clouds of glowing hydrogen gas that fluoresce when exposed to ultraviolet light from newly formed stars.

    Astronomers believe that the oppositely rotating gas arose when M64 absorbed a satellite galaxy that collided with it, perhaps more than one billion years ago. This small galaxy has now been almost completely destroyed, but signs of the collision persist in the backward motion of gas at the outer edge of M64.

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    Three Dusty Beauties Come To Light In ESO Xmas Release
    Munich - Dec 22, 2003
    Not so long ago, the real nature of the "spiral nebulae", spiral-shaped objects observed in the sky through telescopes, was still unknown. This long-standing issue was finally settled in 1924 when the famous American astronomer Edwin Hubble provided conclusive evidence that they are located outside our own galaxy and are in fact "island universes" of their own.



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