Be Mesmerized by This Mesmerizing Blue and Gold Spiral Galaxy (Photo)

An image of spiral galaxy NGC 4303, 55 million light-years away.

An image of spiral galaxy NGC 4303, 55 million light-years away.

An image of spiral galaxy NGC 4303, 55 million light-years away.

A newly released stunning image of a distant spiral galaxy shows its features in brilliant gold and bright blue.

The image of galaxy NGC 4303, 55 million light-years from Earth, was created by two state-of-the-art telescopes in radio waves and visible light as part of physics at high angular resolution in nearby galaxies (PHANGEN) Project.

Also known as Messier 61 (M61), a name derived from its 18th-century co-discoverer Charles Messier, who observed it on the same night as Italian astronomer Barnaba Oriani, NGC 4303 is one of the larger galaxies in the Virgo Cluster.

Related: What is a spiral galaxy?

NGC 4303 is an example of a “starburst galaxy,” a type of galaxy that exhibits an exceptionally high rate of star formation. The fuel for this star-forming process is clouds of cool molecular gas, and these stellar building blocks are visible in the image as a golden glow produced by the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in the Chilean Andes.

The blue regions of NGC 4303 seen in the background of the image show the galaxy’s already forming stars. These aspects of this region were explored by the Multi-Unit Spectroscopic Explorer (MUSE), part of the Very Large Telescope (VLT), also located in Chile.

By combining the images, astronomers can compare the distribution of gas and stars in the galaxy. This should allow scientists to study what triggers star formation in galaxies, which increases and eventually halts the formation of new stars.


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In the joint ALMA/MUSE image, the powerful X-ray source deep in the heart of NGC 4303 is not visible. Astronomers believe this is the result of a so-called “active galactic nucleus” (AGN) powered by a feeding supermassive black hole with an estimated mass of 5 million solar masses.

The PHANGS project is making high-resolution observations of nearby galaxies using a range of telescopes, including the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). The aim of PHANGS is to show how physics at the gas and star formation scale interact with galactic structure and galaxy evolution.

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