Sharpest Spiral Galaxy Image Released
The sharpest image ever taken of the large "grand design" spiral galaxy M81 was released at the American Astronomical Society (AAS) annual meeting, being held this week in Honolulu, Hawaii. Though the galaxy is 11.6 million light-years away, NASA Hubble Space Telescope's view is so sharp it can resolve individual stars, along with open star clusters, globular star clusters and even glowing regions of fluorescent gas. Astronomers plan to use the Hubble image to study the star formation history of the galaxy and how this history relates to the neutron stars and black holes seen in x-ray observations of M81 with NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory. The data was taken with the Advanced Camera for Surveys in 2004 through 2006. This color composite was assembled from images taken in blue, visible, and infrared light. M81 may be undergoing a surge of star formation along the spiral arms due to a close encounter it may have had with its nearby spiral galaxy NGC 3077 and a nearby starburst galaxy (M82) about 300 million years ago, the AAS said. (Photo courtesy Space Telescope Science Institute)
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