This Galaxy Knows How to Party

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Image Credit & Copyright: NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.

With Hubble’s 25th anniversary this week I want to take a few posts and dedicate them to the single most profound scientific instrument ever devised by human hands thus far. Everyone knows the classic Hubble images that, even though we’ve seen many thousands of times, still WOW us. However, I want to post a few of my personal favorites that over the years, still WOW me personally…….I hope you agree.

Helloooo beautiful. This hot mess goes by the name of NGC 4522 and it resides 60 million light years away in the constellation Virgo where it’s a member of the massive Virgo supercluster of galaxies. This is an example of how more is not always necessarily better. As it travels through the region at blinding 10 million kph (6.2 million mph.), the resistance created by the cluster itself is stripping material from the galaxy at a rapid rate via a process known as ram-pressure stripping. You can actually see in the details of this image that vast clusters young blue stars are actually being stripped from the plane of the galaxy and being expelled into the surrounding region behind it.

Now, when you first glance at this image it may appear as though this is some gargantuan freak of the universe that’s blowing its top and as it does so, it’s firing off handfuls of galaxies out of it. It’s an amazing sight, but not the case. The reality is that this galaxy is using the universe and the cluster that it resides in as a backdrop. Littered all throughout this image are hundreds or thousands of other galaxies, each with billions of stars and who knows what else. Similar in power to the Hubble Deep Field collection, I find this image presents what would otherwise be impossible to imagine in conversation or text alone. Hubble actually takes it, and shows us what is impossible to imagine in an image, leaving us picking our jaws up off the floor as it has done so for the last two decades.

NAME: NGC 4522.

WHAT IS IT?: Spiral galaxy undergoing ram pressure stripping of its material.

HOW BIG IS IT?: Roughly 80,000 light years in diameter.

HOW FAR AWAY IS IT?: 60 million light years.

APPARENT MAGNITUDE: A pretty dim 12.

WHERE IS IT? (General): Constellation Virgo and a member of the Virgo Supercluster of galaxies.

WHERE IS IT? (Exact RA/DEC J2000): RA 12h 33m 39,7s / DEC +09° 10′ 30″.

Space Telescope page for this image: http://www.spacetelescope.org/images/heic0911b/

ESA Science page for this image: http://sci.esa.int/hubble/45601-hubble-views-ngc-4522/

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