Look at a stunning image of a distant galaxy

(ORDO NEWS) — The new image captures a breathtaking galaxy like you’ve never seen before.

The image is not only absolutely impressive, but also valuable from a scientific point of view: By studying the light of the galaxy in several wavelengths, scientists will be able to better understand the processes of star formation and evolution.

The galaxy in question is called NGC 4254, or Messier 99; the new imagery makes it visible in multiple light spectra thanks to the Multi-User Spectroscopic Explorer (MUSE) on ESO’s Very Large Telescope.

All galaxies are special, but NGC 4254, located about 50 million light-years from the Milky Way, belongs to a subgroup considered showy among showy, like an albino peacock: a “grand design” spiral galaxy.

It is a spiral galaxy with prominent, well-formed and visible spiral arms; an almost platonic ideal of what a spiral galaxy should look like, as opposed to a flocculent spiral galaxy with fluffy, speckled, and jagged arms.

Look at a stunning image of a distant galaxy 1

However, in MUSE’s field of view, NGC 4254 becomes much fluffier as it shows interstellar gas ionized by newborn stars. Although the galaxy does not produce stars at such a rate as to classify it as a star-striped galaxy, its activity is three times higher than the average for galaxies of this type.

Astronomers believe that this may be the result of an interaction with another galaxy millions of years ago. A hint in favor of this is one of the spiral arms of NGC 4254, which seems to be looser and more elongated than the other.

This ancient interaction could have perturbed NGC 4254, causing enough compression of the molecular gas to cause increased star formation activity.

Look at a stunning image of a distant galaxy 2

Whatever the reason, its relatively close proximity to the Milky Way and the angle at which we can observe it make NGC 4254 an excellent example for studying star formation.

The MUSE image was taken as part of the Physics at High Angular Resolution in Nearby GalaxieS (PHANGS) project, which takes high-resolution, multi-wavelength images of nearby galaxies to study the entire star birth cycle.


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