Three powerful space observatories unveil the Whirlpool Galaxy as a marvel of star formation and death of the stars in a new video from the Space Telescope Science Institute, which conducts the scientific operations for the Hubble Space Telescope.
The 3-minute series of images opens with a breathtaking view of the galaxy's wavelength, a supernova-rich zone (starburst) located about 30 million light-years from Earth toward the northern constellation Canes Venatici. The Whirlpool Galaxy is officially known by astronomers as M51 or NGC 5194.
"The Whirlpool Galaxy is perhaps the most striking example of a spiral galaxy," say Hubble representatives in the video. "Different wavelength observations show different structures in the galaxy: in three dimensions, the galaxy's spiral arms spin through a pancake-shaped disk." [When Galaxies Collide: Amazing Hubble Telescope Photos]
The video steps through different wavelength observations of the galaxy in visible light (Hubble), infrared light (Spitzer Space Telescope) and X-rays (Chandra X-ray Observatory) explain what each space telescope astronomer shows.
In visible light, astronomers can detect older and younger stars: the yellow and older stars are near the center of the galaxy, while younger and bluer stars tend to collect in the galaxy's spiral arms. Infrared light shows the oldest and reddest stars that populate the entire galaxy. Meanwhile, X-rays show the high-energy zones. This includes the energetic emissions of binary star systems with black holes or neutron stars. (A neutron star is the densely packed star nucleus that remains after the original star explodes in a supernova.)
Different wavelengths can also reveal the overall structure of the galaxy, explains the video. In the center of Whirlpool is embedded a supermassive black hole emitting strong X-rays. Cold gas and dust in the arms radiates at infrared temperatures, revealing the galactic structure. In the meantime, hotter gas in star-studded nurseries is showing supernova explosions that bring the gas to high temperatures.
"The contrasting features of multi-wavelength studies greatly enhance our understanding of the galactic structure," concludes the video.
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