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Hubble Shows New Image of Spiral Galaxy NGC 2841
by Staff Writers
Garching, Germany (ESO) Feb 18, 2011

A bright cusp of starlight marks the galaxy's center. Spiraling outward are dust lanes that are silhouetted against the population of whitish middle-aged stars. Much younger blue stars trace the spiral arms. Notably missing are pinkish emission nebulae indicative of new star birth. It is likely that the radiation and supersonic winds from fiery, super-hot, young blue stars cleared out the remaining gas (which glows pink), and hence shut down further star formation in the regions in which they were born. NGC 2841 currently has a relatively low star formation rate compared to other spirals that are ablaze with emission nebulae. NGC 2841 lies 46 million light-years away in the constellation of Ursa Major (The Great Bear). This image was taken in 2010 through four different filters on Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3. Wavelengths range from ultraviolet light through visible light to near-infrared light. NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage (STScI/AURA)-ESA/Hubble Collaboration. Acknowledgment: M. Crockett and S. Kaviraj (Oxford University, UK), R. O'Connell (University of Virginia), B. Whitmore (STScI), and the WFC3 Scientific Oversight Committee. More images at ESA and NASA

The galaxy NGC 2841 - shown here in this NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image, taken with the space observatory's newest instrument, the Wide Field Camera 3 - currently has a relatively low star formation rate compared to other spirals.

It is one of several nearby galaxies that have been specifically chosen for a new study in which a pick 'n' mix of different stellar nursery environments and birth rates are being observed.

Star formation is one of the most important processes in shaping the Universe; it plays a pivotal role in the evolution of galaxies and it is also in the earliest stages of star formation that planetary systems first appear.

Yet there is still much that astronomers don't understand, such as how do the properties of stellar nurseries vary according to the composition and density of the gas present, and what triggers star formation in the first place?

The driving force behind star formation is particularly unclear for a type of galaxy called a flocculent spiral, such as NGC 2841 shown here, which features short spiral arms rather than prominent and well-defined galactic limbs.

In an attempt to answer some of these questions, an international team of astronomers is using the new Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) installed on the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope to study a sample of nearby, but wildly differing, locations where stars are forming.

The observational targets include both star clusters and galaxies, and star formation rates range from the baby-booming starburst galaxy Messier 82 to the much more sedate star producer NGC 2841.

WFC3 was installed on Hubble in May 2009 during Servicing Mission 4, and replaces the Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2. It is particularly well-suited to this new study, as the camera is optimized to observe the ultraviolet radiation emitted by newborn stars (shown by the bright blue clumps in this image of NGC 2841) and infrared wavelengths, so that it can peer behind the veil of dust that would otherwise hide them from view.

While the image shows lots of hot, young stars in the disc of NGC 2841, there are just a few sites of current star formation where hydrogen gas is collapsing into new stars. It is likely that these fiery youngsters destroyed the star-forming regions in which they were formed.


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Hubble Sees Farther Back In Time Than Ever Before
Pasadena CA (JPL) Jan 28, 2011
Astronomers have pushed NASA's Hubble Space Telescope to it limits by finding what they believe to be the most distant object ever seen in the universe-at a distance of 13.2 billion light years, some 3% of the age of universe. This places the object roughly 150 million light years more distant than the previous record holder. The observations provide the best insights yet into the birth of ... read more

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