HAPPY SWEET SIXTEEN, HUBBLE TELESCOPE!
To celebrate the Hubble Space Telescope's 16 years of success, the two
space agencies involved in the project, NASA and the European Space
Agency (ESA), are releasing this image of the magnificent starburst
galaxy, Messier 82 (M82). This mosaic image is the sharpest wide-angle
view ever obtained of M82. The galaxy is remarkable for its bright blue
disk, webs of shredded clouds, and fiery-looking plumes of glowing
hydrogen blasting out of its central regions.
Throughout the galaxy's center, young stars are being born 10 times
faster than they are inside our entire Milky Way Galaxy. The resulting
huge concentration of young stars carved into the gas and dust at the
galaxy's center. The fierce galactic superwind generated from these
stars compresses enough gas to make millions of more stars.
In M82, young stars are crammed into tiny but massive star clusters.
These, in turn, congregate by the dozens to make the bright patches,
or "starburst clumps," in the central parts of M82. The clusters in
the clumps can only be distinguished in the sharp Hubble images. Most
of the pale, white objects sprinkled around the body of M82 that look
like fuzzy stars are actually individual star clusters about 20
light-years across and containing up to a million stars.
The rapid rate of star formation in this galaxy eventually will be self-
limiting. When star formation becomes too vigorous, it will consume or
destroy the material needed to make more stars. The starburst then will
subside, probably in a few tens of millions of years.
Located 12 million light-years away, M82 appears high in the northern
spring sky in the direction of the constellation Ursa Major, the Great
Bear. It is also called the "Cigar Galaxy" because of the elliptical
shape produced by the oblique tilt of its starry disk relative to our
line of sight.
The observation was made in March 2006, with the Advanced Camera for
Surveys' Wide Field Channel. Astronomers assembled this 6-image
composite mosaic by combining exposures taken with four colored filters
that capture starlight from visible and infrared wavelengths as well as
the light from the glowing hydrogen filaments.
Hubble was launched on April 24, 1990, aboard the space shuttle
Credit: NASA, ESA, and The Hubble Heritage Team
Acknowledgment: J. Gallagher (University of Wisconsin),
M. Mountain (STScI), and P. Puxley (National Science