From the Hubble Space Telescope
The Whirlpool galaxy, M51 (NGC 5194) is having a close encounter with a nearby companion galaxy, NGC 5195, just off the upper edge of this image. The companion's gravitational pull is triggering star formation in the main galaxy, as seen in brilliant detail by numerous, luminous clusters of young and energetic stars. The bright clusters are highlighted in red by their associated emission from glowing hydrogen gas.
This Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 image enables astronomers to clearly define the structure of both the cold dust clouds and the hot hydrogen and link individual clusters to their parent dust clouds. Intricate structure is also seen for the first time in the dust clouds. Along the spiral arms, dust "spurs" are seen branching out almost perpendicular to the main spiral arms. The regularity and large number of these features suggests to astronomers that previous models of "two-arm" spiral galaxies may need to be revisited. The new images also reveal a dust disk in the nucleus, which may provide fuel for a nuclear black hole.
This image was composed by the Hubble Heritage Team from Hubble archival data of M51 and is superimposed onto ground-based data taken by Travis Rector (NOAO) at the 0.9-meter telescope at the National Science Foundation's Kitt Peak National Observatory (NOAO/AURA) in Tucson, AZ.
Image Title: Hubble Reveals the Heart of the Whirlpool Galaxy
based on press release for PHOTO NO.: STScI-PRC01-10
Image Credit: NASA and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
Acknowledgment: N. Scoville (Caltech) and T. Rector (NOAO)
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Last Modified On: Friday, May 11, 2001