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Hubble celebrates 27 years with two close friends

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A close galactic pair

This image displays the galaxies NGC 4302 — seen edge-on — and NGC 4298, both located 55 million light-years away. They were observed by Hubble to celebrate its 27th year in orbit.

The galaxy NGC 4298 is seen almost face-on, allowing us to see its spiral arms and the blue patches of ongoing star formation and young stars. In the edge-on disc of NGC 4302 huge swathes of dust are responsible for the mottled brown patterns, but a burst of blue to the left side of the galaxy indicates a region of extremely vigorous star formation.

The image is a mosaic of four separate captures from Hubble, taken between 2 and 22 January 2017, that have been stitched together to give this amazing field of view. Two different types of light emitted by the galaxies — visible and near-infrared — have been combined to give a rich and colourful image. This light was captured by Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3, one of the telescope’s most advanced imaging instruments.

Credit: NASA, ESA, and M. Mutchler (STScI)

 

Hubble celebrates 27 years with two close friends

This stunning cosmic pairing of the two very different looking spiral galaxies NGC 4302 and NGC 4298 was imaged by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. The image brilliantly captures their warm stellar glow and brown, mottled patterns of dust. As a perfect demonstration of Hubble’s capabilities, this spectacular view has been released as part of the telescope’s 27th anniversary celebrations.

Since its launch on 24 April 1990, Hubble has been nothing short of a revolution in astronomy. The first orbiting facility of its kind, for 27 years the telescope has been exploring the wonders of the cosmos. Astronomers and the public alike have witnessed what no other humans in history have before. In addition to revealing the beauty of the cosmos, Hubble has proved itself to be a treasure chest of scientific data that astronomers can access.

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A sea of galaxies

While one instrument of Hubble observed the target for its 27th anniversary — the galaxies NGC 4302 and NGC 4298 — another instrument simultaneously observed a nearby patch of the sky. These so-called parallel field observations increase the efficiency of how the telescope is used when making observations.

This specific parallel field shows an area of the sky, awash largely with spiral galaxies like our Milky Way. Most of the prominent galaxies look different only because they are tilted at various orientations with respect to Earth — from edge-on to face-on. A few others are currently interacting or in the process of a merger. The objects with diffraction spikes are foreground stars in our own galaxy.

Credit: NASA, ESA, and M. Mutchler (STScI)

 

ESA and NASA celebrate Hubble’s birthday each year with a spectacular image. This year’s anniversary image features a pair of spiral galaxies known as NGC 4302 — seen edge-on — and NGC 4298, both located 55 million light-years away in the northern constellation of Coma Berenices (Berenice’s Hair). The pair, discovered by astronomer William Herschel in 1784, form part of the Virgo Cluster, a gravitationally bound collection of nearly 2000 individual galaxies.

The edge-on NGC 4302 is a bit smaller than our own Milky Way Galaxy. The tilted NGC 4298 is even smaller: only half the size of its companion.

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Wide-field image of NGC 4298 and NGC 4302 (ground-based image)

This ground-based image shows the two galaxies NGC 4298 and NGC 4302 and their surroundings.

Credit: NASA, ESA, Digitized Sky Survey 2; Acknowledgement: Davide De Martin

 

At their closest points, the galaxies are separated from each other in projection by only around 7000 light-years. Given this very close arrangement, astronomers are intrigued by the galaxies’ apparent lack of any significant gravitational interaction; only a faint bridge of neutral hydrogen gas — not visible in this image — appears to stretch between them. The long tidal tails and deformations in their structure that are typical of galaxies lying so close to each other are missing completely.

Astronomers have found very faint tails of gas streaming from the two galaxies, pointing in roughly the same direction — away from the centre of the Virgo Cluster. They have proposed that the galactic double is a recent arrival to the cluster, and is currently falling in towards the cluster centre and the galaxy Messier 87 lurking there — one of the most massive galaxies known. On their travels, the two galaxies are encountering hot gas — the intracluster medium — that acts like a strong wind, stripping layers of gas and dust from the galaxies to form the streaming tails.

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Annotated wide-field image of NGC 4298 and NGC 4302 (ground-based image)

This ground-based image shows the two galaxies NGC 4298 and NGC 4302 and their surroundings. Some prominent galaxies — both in the field and within the Virgo Cluster — as well as some bright stars are annotated.

Credit: NASA, ESA, Digitized Sky Survey 2

 

Even in its 27th year of operation, Hubble continues to provide truly spectacular images of the cosmos, and even as the launch date of its companion — the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope — draws closer, Hubble does not slow down. Instead, the telescope keeps raising the bar, showing it still has plenty of observing left to do for many more years to come. In fact, astronomers are looking forward to have Hubble and James Webb operational at the same time and use their combined capabilities to explore the Universe.

source: Hubble Space Telescope

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