A Spiral Meets its End

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Image Credit & Copyright: NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope and the Hubble Heritage Team.

Upon initial inspection of this image you may conclude that this galaxy is spinning so fast that it’s literally venting stars and material out into the surrounding cosmos; spinning like a buzz saw as it makes its way through the region. The truth to this image is in fact just as terrifying if you happen to be one of its inhabitants.

This galaxy, NGC 4911 is located about 320 million light years away (and receding at 8000 km/s) in the constellation Coma Berenices and it resides in the massive galaxy cluster known as the Coma Cluster. If you remove the ghostly outskirts, the “meat” of this galaxy looks pretty normal. You can clearly see the spiral shape to the structure along with vast bands of gas and dust lacing those active arms.

Let’s take a moment and think about what an inhabitant would see living there looking through their telescope at the Milky Way (or whatever they call it) right at this second as we read this. Everything in the universe moves and rotates, thus once you begin to deal with distances as great as these, weird things start to happen. We are but two ghosts looking at one another, they are looking at us, telescopes trained not to where we are now, but to where our location was 320 million years ago just as we see them as they looked that same time ago, in a location that they are not at today…..it’s a breath taking realization.

So what about that smoky look extending out even further than the diameter of the main disk? From its location in the Coma Cluster, tidal forces are pulling on this galaxy in all directions. Those gravitational interactions are literally tearing this galaxy to pieces star by star, cloud by cloud until eventually the galaxy will even lose its spiral shape and end eternity as most galaxies in clusters will; as a dim yellow elliptical galaxy.

We are witnessing the death of a spiral…….

NAME: NGC 4911 or UGC 8128.

WHAT IS IT?: Spiral galaxy undergoing tidal forces of gravity.

HOW BIG IS IT?: The arm region is about 100,000 light years in diameter.

HOW FAR AWAY IS IT?: 320 million light years.

APPARENT MAGNITUDE: A dim 12.8.

WHERE IS IT? (General): Constellation Coma Berenices (Berenices Hair) in the Coma cluster of galaxies.

WHERE IS IT? (Exact RA/DEC J2000): R.A. 13h 00m 56s.06 / Dec. +27° 47′ 27″.13.

Hubblesite News Center page for this image: http://hubblesite.org/newscenter/archive/releases/2010/24/image/a/

Hubble Heritage page for this image: http://heritage.stsci.edu/2010/24/

NASA homepage for this image: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/hubble/science/island-universe.html

NASA APOD for this image: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap100908.html

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