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A spiral galaxy is a certain kind of galaxy originally described by Edwin Hubble in his 1936 work The Realm of the Nebulae and, as such, forms part of the Hubble sequence. Spiral galaxies consist of a flat, rotating disk containing stars, gas and dust, and a central concentration of stars known as the bulge. These are surrounded by a much fainter halo of stars, many of which reside in globular clusters.
Spiral galaxies are named for the spiral structures that extend from the center into the disk. The spiral arms are sites of ongoing star formation and are brighter than the surrounding disk because of the young, hot OB stars that inhabit them.
Roughly two-thirds of all spirals are observed to have an additional component in the form of a bar-like structure, extending from the central bulge, at the ends of which the spiral arms begin. Our own Milky Way has recently (in the 1990s) been confirmed to be a barred spiral, although the bar itself is difficult to observe from our position within the Galactic disk. The most convincing evidence for its existence comes from a recent survey, performed by the Spitzer Space Telescope, of stars in the Galactic center.
Together with irregular galaxies, spiral galaxies make up approximately 60% of galaxies in the local Universe. They are mostly found in low-density regions and are rare in the centers of galaxy clusters.
Please note, I did not shoot this image. Credit for the original image is given to NASA and STScI. It was captured by the Hubble telescope and I have put my own "spin" on it.
December 14th, 2012
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