Scientists are seeing unprecedented detail of the spiral arms and dust clouds in the nearby Whirlpool galaxy, thanks to a new Hubble Space Telescope image, available at http://hubblesite.org/newscenter/archive/releases/2001/10. The image uses data collected January 15 and 24, 1995, and July 21, 1999, by Hubble's Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2, designed and built by JPL. Using the image, a research group led by Dr. Nick Scoville of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, clearly defined the structure of the galaxy's cold dust clouds and hot hydrogen, and they linked star clusters within the galaxy to their parent dust clouds.
The Whirlpool galaxy is one of the most photogenic galaxies. This celestial beauty is easily seen and photographed with smaller telescopes and studied extensively from large ground- and space-based observatories. The new composite image shows visible starlight and light from the emission of glowing hydrogen, which is associated with the most luminous young stars in the spiral arms.
The galaxy is having a close encounter with a nearby companion galaxy, NGC 5195, just off the upper edge of the image. The companion's gravitational pull is triggering star formation in the main galaxy, lit up by numerous clusters of young and energetic stars in brilliant detail. Luminous clusters are highlighted in red by their associated emission from glowing hydrogen gas.
This image was composed by the Hubble Heritage Team from Hubble archive data and was superimposed onto data taken by Dr. Travis Rector of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory at the .9-meter (35-inch) telescope at the National Science Foundation's Kitt Peak National Observatory, Tucson, Ariz. Scoville's team includes M. Polletta of the University of Geneva, Switzerland; S. Ewald and S. Stolovy of Caltech; and R. Thompson and M. Rieke of the University of Arizona, Tucson.
The Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Md., manages space operations for the Hubble Space Telescope for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C. The institute is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., for NASA under contract with NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. JPL is a division of Caltech.
Additional information about the Hubble Space Telescope is available at http://www.stsci.edu/hst/. More information about the Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 is available at http://www.stsci.edu/hst/wfpc2.