A spiral galaxy adorns “Bérénice’s hair” in a striking telescope photo.
Although Charles Messier developed a famous catalog of celestial bodies in the 18th century which includes this galaxy, officially known as NGC 4254, NASA writes that another French astronomer by the name of Pierre Méchain was the one who discovered it, in 1781. But its best-known observer is the one represented by the popular nickname for the spiral galaxy, Messier 99.
This object is located 55 million light-years from Earth. According to NASA, it can be seen using a medium-sized telescope in May. But the spiral galaxy obtained high definition processing with robust observation tools located in South America. Messier 99’s well-defined arms resemble a pinwheel in a new image from the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) PHANGS survey.
Related: Take a stunning aerial tour of ESO’s Large Telescopes in Chile (video)
Short for High Angular Resolution Physics in Nearby Galaxies, PHANGS “produces high-resolution images of nearby galaxies at all wavelengths of light,” ESO officials write in an October 24 statement. description of the image (opens in a new tab). “This will allow astronomers to learn more about the diversity of galactic environments present in our universe.”
To observe Messier 99, astronomers directed two ESO facilities in Chile – the Very Large Telescope (VLT) and the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) – to peer into “Berenice’s Hair”, a constellation officially known as name of Coma Berenice. It is located in the northern sky, near the constellation Leo.
The orange color of Messier 99’s spiral arms in the photo, and the red around their edges, are ALMA data. These vibrant hues represent, according to the ESO, “cold gas clouds that may eventually collapse into stars.”
The shimmering purple and blue tones in contrast are stars spread throughout the galaxy. These cooler colors represent VLT data.
Messier 99 may offer astronomers more clues about star formation in the universe. “Comparing these two sets of data [ALMA and VLT] provides a better understanding of how stars are formed,” write the ESO officials.
This object has also been the subject of other missions, such as the venerable Hubble Space Telescope. “This galaxy is called a grand design spiral,” NASA officials said written in 2017 (opens in a new tab) when describing the Hubble observations, “with long, wide, and clearly defined spiral arms – giving it a structure somewhat similar to our home galaxy, the Milky Way.”
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