ESOs camera spots smaller look-alike of Milky Way

September 3rd, 2008 - 3:59 pm ICT by ANI  

Munich, September 3 (ANI): The European Southern Observatorys (ESOs) Wide Field Imager has captured the intricate swirls of a spiral galaxy, which is a smaller look-alike of our own Milky Way.

Shining with the light of billions of stars and the ruby red glow of hydrogen gas, it is a beautiful example of a barred spiral galaxy, whose shape has led to it being nicknamed the Southern Pinwheel, though it is officially known as Messier 83.

The dramatic image of the galaxy Messier 83 was captured by the Wide Field Imager at ESOs La Silla Observatory, located high in the dry desert mountains of the Chilean Atacama Desert.

Messier 83 lies roughly 15 million light-years away towards the huge southern constellation of Hydra (the sea serpent). It stretches over 40 000 light-years, making it roughly 2.5 times smaller than our own Milky Way.

However, in some respects, Messier 83 is quite similar to our own galaxy.

Both the Milky Way and Messier 83 possess a bar across their galactic nucleus, the dense spherical conglomeration of stars seen at the centre of the galaxies.

The very detailed image shows the spiral arms of Messier 83 adorned by countless bright flourishes of ruby red light. These are in fact huge clouds of glowing hydrogen gas.

Ultraviolet radiation from newly born, massive stars is ionising the gas in these clouds, causing the great regions of hydrogen to glow red.

These star forming regions are contrasted dramatically in this image against the ethereal glow of older yellow stars near the galaxys central hub.

The image also shows the delicate tracery of dark and winding dust streams weaving throughout the arms of the galaxy.

Messier 83 was discovered by the French astronomer Nicolas Louis de Lacaille in the mid 18th century.

Decades later, it was listed in the famous catalogue of deep sky objects compiled by another French astronomer and famous comet hunter, Charles Messier.

Recent observations of this enigmatic galaxy in ultraviolet light and radio waves have shown that even its outer desolate regions are populated with baby stars.

X-ray observations of the heart of Messier 83 have shown that its centre is a hive of vigorous star formation, held deep within a cloud of superheated gas, with temperatures of 7 million degrees Celsius. (ANI)

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