HUBBLE WALKS INTO A BAR……OR AT LEAST PHOTOGRAPHS ONE.
Image Credit: NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. CLICK photo for larger size and see below for information and links.
Ok lame joke but I have this great Hubble photo to make up for it. NGC 1073 is a beautifully structured barred spiral galaxy roughly 55 million light years away in the constellation Cetus, the Sea Monster. The structure is about 80,000 light years in diameter and my favorite aspect is its color contrast between the ancient yellow stars in its bar formation and the younger blue stars that make up its interestingly shaped spiral arms.
Another treat here is throughout the spiral are bright pockets of new star formation bursting into life. I wonder if any young stars in that galaxy have evolved intelligent life? If they have they recently watched the near extinction of our planet during the KT Extinction event some 10 million years prior. Who knows, depending on how fast live life forms, perhaps some of those stars being created now will in 55 million years see us as we are today……..
Barred spiral galaxies out number non-barred spiral galaxies almost two (2) to one (1) in the universe and it’s believed that earlier in the evolution timeline of the universe that only about one-fifth of all spiral galaxies were barred. What’s that mean? Well, it’s hypothesized that it’s a sign of galactic evolution. As spiral galaxies age, it’s known that the older redder stars pool into the nucleus of the galaxy and apparently in time form bar structures like we see here. Even the Milky Way has a modest barred structure at its nucleus.
Let’s have some fun with space and distance. Near the top left of this photo (highlighted) is X-ray source IXO 5. It’s thought to be from a binary system of a star and black hole in orbit around one another in galaxy NGC 1073. There are two points of light (not highlighted but they each have four way refraction spikes) in this photo; those are stars within our own Milky Way only a few tens of thousands of light years away. There are also three points of light on the right hand side of the photo named (from top to bottom) [VV96] J024333.6+012222, QSO B0240+011 and finally (thankfully) PKS 0241+011. Those aren’t foreground stars a few thousand light years away in our own Milky Way nor are they even bright stars in NGC 1073 a vast 55 million light years away. They’re actually the brightest objects in the universe; quasi-stellar objects or “quasars.” They reside billions of light years beyond the galaxy we see here. That’s right, what you’re seeing is the light from three supermassive black holes millions of times the mass of our sun devouring matter in galaxies that would otherwise be near invisible to detect. While much of the matter falls into the black hole, massive amounts of matter are fired off as near light speed jets away from the black hole. Those jets travel tens to hundreds of thousands of light years into the cosmos in either direction. Kind of like me eating cake too fast…..some of it goes in the hole, much of it ends up on my face.
Also, if you look throughout this entire image, peer beyond the galaxy that dominates the photo and you can see the reddish hue to galaxies tens to hundreds of millions of light years more distant than NGC 1073 here. Can you just imagine, another civilization is right now peering out of one of those galaxies through this same galaxy and viewing ours as it were hundreds of millions of years ago. Talk about multiple levels of time travel in this image and to be honest Carl Sagan said it best; “You cannot look OUT into space, without looking BACK into time.”
NAME: NGC 1073.
WHAT IS IT?: Barred spiral galaxy.
HOW FAR AWAY IS IT?: Approximately 55 million light years.
HOW BIG IS IT?: Approximately 80,000 light years in diameter.
APPARENT MAGNITUDE: 11.5.
WHERE IS IT? (General): Constellation Cetus the Sea Monster.
WHERE IS IT? (Exact RA/DEC J2000): RA 02h 43m 40.5s / DEC +01° 22′ 34″.
ESA Hubble Space Telescope page for this photo: http://www.spacetelescope.org/news/heic1202/
Same page and photo but annotated: http://www.spacetelescope.org/images/heic1202b/
ESA Hubble Science page for this photo: http://sci.esa.int/hubble/49958-labelled-hubble-image-of-ngc-1073-showing-quasars-and-ixo-5/
NASA featured Image: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/hubble/multimedia/hubble-20120206.html
NASA APOD page for this photo: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap120220.html