Scientists starstruck by Pinwheel galaxy

In Brief

Astronomy

March 03, 2006|By FRANK ROYLANCE

A new image from the Hubble Space Telescope reveals the vast Pinwheel galaxy in such spectacular detail that astronomers have catalogued 3,000 new star clusters visible in its spiral arms.

The composite photograph, released this week, is one of the largest and most detailed images of a spiral galaxy ever published, measuring 12,000 by 16,000 pixels. (By comparison, a 3.1 megapixel camera produces images that measure 2,048 by 1,536 pixels.)

The Pinwheel galaxy, or M101, sparkles with hot blue clusters of newborn stars. It's found in the northern sky, near the handle of the Big Dipper.

At 170,000 light years across, it is twice the size of our Milky Way galaxy. Scientists say it contains a trillion stars, perhaps 100 billion of them comparable to our sun. Yet it's so thin that the light from several background galaxies shines through.

The starlight captured by Hubble left the galaxy 25 million years ago. The photo was assembled from 51 images snapped by Hubble's cameras between 1994 and 2003, and superimposed on images made by telescopes in Hawaii and Arizona.

M101 online: spacetelescope.org

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