Hubble WFC3 Image Details Star Birth in Galaxy M83
The spectacular new camera installed on NASA's Hubble Space
Telescope during Servicing Mission 4 in May has delivered
the most detailed view of star birth in the graceful,
curving arms of the nearby spiral galaxy M83.
Nicknamed the Southern Pinwheel, M83 is undergoing more
rapid star formation than our own Milky Way galaxy,
especially in its nucleus. The sharp "eye" of the Wide
Field Camera 3 (WFC3) has captured hundreds of young star
clusters, ancient swarms of globular star clusters, and
hundreds of thousands of individual stars, mostly blue
supergiants and red supergiants.
The image, taken in August 2009, provides a close-up view
of the myriad stars near the galaxy's core, the bright
whitish region at far right.
WFC3's broad wavelength range, from ultraviolet to
near-infrared, reveals stars at different stages of
evolution, allowing astronomers to dissect the galaxy's
The image reveals in unprecedented detail the current rapid
rate of star birth in this famous "grand design" spiral
galaxy. The newest generations of stars are forming largely
in clusters on the edges of the dark dust lanes, the
backbone of the spiral arms. These fledgling stars, only a
few million years old, are bursting out of their dusty
cocoons and producing bubbles of reddish glowing hydrogen
The excavated regions give a colorful "Swiss cheese"
appearance to the spiral arm. Gradually, the young stars'
fierce winds (streams of charged particles) blow away the
gas, revealing bright blue star clusters. These stars are
about 1 million to 10 million years old. The older
populations of stars are not as blue.
A bar of stars, gas, and dust slicing across the core of
the galaxy may be instigating most of the star birth in the
galaxy's core. The bar funnels material to the galaxy's
center, where the most active star formation is taking
place. The brightest star clusters reside along an arc near
The remains of about 60 supernova blasts, the deaths of
massive stars, can be seen in the image, five times more
than known previously in this region. WFC3 identified the
remnants of exploded stars. By studying these remnants,
astronomers can better understand the nature of the
progenitor stars, which are responsible for the creation
and dispersal of most of the galaxy's heavy elements.
M83, located in the Southern Hemisphere, is often compared
to M51, dubbed the Whirlpool galaxy, in the Northern
Hemisphere. Located 15 million light-years away in the
constellation Hydra, M83 is two times closer to Earth than
Credit: Credit: NASA, ESA, R. O'Connell (University of Virginia), the WFC3 Science Oversight Committee and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)