New York , NY
Spiral Galaxy M81
Photograph - Photograph
The sharpest image ever taken of the large "grand design" spiral galaxy M81 was released on 5/29/07 at the American Astronomical Society Meeting in Honolulu, Hawaii. This beautiful galaxy is tilted at an oblique angle on to our line of sight, giving a "birds-eye view" of the spiral structure. The galaxy is similar to our Milky Way, but our favorable view provides a better picture of the typical architecture of spiral galaxies. Though the galaxy is 11.6 million light-years away, NASA Hubble Space Telescope's view is so sharp that it can resolve individual stars, along with open star clusters, globular star clusters, and even glowing regions of fluorescent gas. The spiral arms, which wind all the way down into the nucleus, are made up of young, bluish, hot stars formed in the past few million years. They also host a population of stars formed in an episode of star formation that started about 600 million years ago. A black hole of 70 million solar masses resides at the center of M81. The black hole is about 15 times the mass of the Milky Way's black hole. Previous Hubble research shows that the size of the central black hole in a galaxy is proportional to the mass of a galaxy's bulge. 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.
March 14th, 2013
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