Hubble Telescope photos show two faces of the
Whirlpool Galaxy in Visible & Near-Infra red
These images by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope show off two dramatically
different face-on views of the spiral galaxy M51, dubbed the Whirlpool Galaxy.
The image at left, taken in visible light, highlights the attributes of a
typical spiral galaxy, including graceful, curving arms, pink star-forming
regions, and brilliant blue strands of star clusters.
In the image at right, most of the starlight has been removed, revealing the
Whirlpool's skeletal dust structure, as seen in near-infrared light. This new
image is the sharpest view of the dense dust in M51 The narrow lanes of dust
revealed by Hubble reflect the galaxy's moniker, the Whirlpool Galaxy, as if
they were swirling toward the galaxy's core.
To map the galaxy's dust structure, researchers collected the galaxy's
starlight by combining images taken in visible and near-infrared light. The
visible-light image captured only some of the light; the rest was obscured by
dust. The near-infrared view, however, revealed more starlight because
near-infrared light penetrates dust. The researchers then subtracted the
total amount of starlight from both images to see the galaxy's dust structure.
The red color in the near-infrared image traces the dust, which is punctuated
by hundreds of tiny clumps of stars, each about 65 light-years wide. These
stars have never been seen before. The star clusters cannot be seen in
visible light because dense dust enshrouds them. The image reveals details as
small as 35 light-years across.
Astronomers expected to see large dust clouds, ranging from about 100
light-years to more than 300 light-years wide. Instead, most of the dust is
tied up in smooth and diffuse dust lanes. An encounter with another galaxy
may have prevented giant clouds from forming.
Probing a galaxy's dust structure serves as an important diagnostic tool for
astronomers, providing invaluable information on how the gas and dust collapse
to form stars. Although Hubble is providing incisive views of the internal
structure of galaxies such as M51, the planned James Webb Space Telescope
(JWST) is expected to produce even crisper images.
Researchers constructed the image by combining visible-light exposures from
Jan. 18 to 22, 2005, with the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) and
near-infrared-light pictures taken in December 2005 with the Near Infrared
Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer (NICMOS)
Object Names: M51, Whirlpool Galaxy Image Type: Astronomical
Credit for the NICMOS Image: NASA, ESA, M. Regan and B. Whitmore (STScI),
and R. Chandar (University of Toledo)
Credit for the ACS Image: NASA, ESA, S. Beckwith (STScI), and the Hubble
Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)