A spiral in Leo

Aug 10, 2011
This picture of the nearby galaxy NGC 3521 was taken using the FORS1 instrument on ESO's Very Large Telescope, at the Paranal Observatory in Chile. The large spiral galaxy lies in the constellation of Leo (The Lion), and is only 35 million light-years distant. This picture was created from exposures taken through three different filters that passed blue light, yellow/green light and near-infrared light. These are shown in this picture as blue, green and red, respectively. Credit: ESO/O. Maliy

(PhysOrg.com) -- This new picture from ESO’s Very Large Telescope shows NGC 3521, a spiral galaxy located about 35 million light years away in the constellation of Leo (The Lion). Spanning about 50 000 light-years, this spectacular object has a bright and compact nucleus, surrounded by richly detailed spiral structure.

The most distinctive features of the bright galaxy NGC 3521 are its long that are dotted with star-forming regions and interspersed with veins of dust. The arms are rather irregular and patchy, making NGC 3521 a typical example of a flocculent spiral galaxy. These galaxies have "fluffy" spiral arms that contrast with the sweeping arms of grand-design spirals such as the famous Whirlpool galaxy or M 51, discovered by Charles Messier.

NGC 3521 is bright and relatively close-by, and can easily be seen with a small telescope such as the one used by Messier to catalogue a series of hazy and comet-like objects in the 1700s. Strangely, the French astronomer seems to have missed this flocculent spiral even though he identified several other of similar brightness in the constellation of Leo.

It was only in the year that Messier published the final version of his catalogue, 1784, that another famous astronomer, William Herschel, discovered NGC 3521 early on in his more detailed surveys of the northern skies. Through his larger, 47-cm aperture, telescope, Herschel saw a "bright center surrounded by nebulosity," according to his observation notes.

In this new VLT picture, colourful, yet ill defined, spiral arms replace Herschel's "nebulosity". Older stars dominate the reddish area in the centre while young, hot blue stars permeate the arms further away from the core.

Oleg Maliy, who participated ESO's Hidden Treasures 2010 competition, selected the data from the FORS1 instrument on ESO's VLT at the Paranal Observatory in Chile that were used to create this dramatic image. Exposures taken through three different filters that passed blue light (coloured blue), yellow/green light (coloured green), and near-infrared light (coloured red) have been combined to make this picture. The total exposure times were 300 seconds per filter. Oleg's image of NGC 3521 was a highly ranked entry in the competition, which attracted almost 100 entries.

Explore further: Image: Chandra's view of the Tycho Supernova remnant

Related Stories

Spiral galaxies stripped bare

Oct 27, 2010

Six spectacular spiral galaxies are seen in a clear new light in images from ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) at the Paranal Observatory in Chile. The pictures were taken in infrared light, using the ...

A spiral galaxy that resembles our Milky Way

Jun 01, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- ESO astronomers have used the Wide Field Imager on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope to capture an image of NGC 6744. This impressive spiral galaxy lies about 30 million light-years away in ...

An elegant galaxy in an unusual light (w/ Video)

Sep 22, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- A new image taken with the powerful HAWK-I camera on ESO's Very Large Telescope at Paranal Observatory in Chile shows the beautiful barred spiral galaxy NGC 1365 in infrared light. NGC 1365 ...

Cosmic Portrait of a Perturbed Family

Nov 04, 2005

This photo shows in amazing details a group of galaxies known as Robert's Quartet. The image is based on data collected with the FORS2 multi-mode instrument on ESO's Very Large Telescope. Robert's Quartet is ...

Hubble's view of barred spiral galaxy NGC 1672

Apr 03, 2007

NGC 1672, visible from the Southern Hemisphere, is seen almost face on and shows regions of intense star formation. The greatest concentrations of star formation are found in the so-called starburst regions ...

Image: Pinwheel of star birth

Oct 19, 2010

Though the universe is chock full of spiral-shaped galaxies, no two look exactly the same. This face-on spiral galaxy, called NGC 3982, is striking for its rich tapestry of star birth, along with its winding ...

Recommended for you

Image: Chandra's view of the Tycho Supernova remnant

7 hours ago

More than four centuries after Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe first observed the supernova that bears his name, the supernova remnant it created is now a bright source of X-rays. The supersonic expansion of ...

Satellite galaxies put astronomers in a spin

Jul 24, 2014

An international team of researchers, led by astronomers at the Observatoire Astronomique de Strasbourg (CNRS/Université de Strasbourg), has studied 380 galaxies and shown that their small satellite galaxies almost always ...

Video: The diversity of habitable zones and the planets

Jul 24, 2014

The field of exoplanets has rapidly expanded from the exclusivity of exoplanet detection to include exoplanet characterization. A key step towards this characterization is the determination of which planets occupy the Habitable ...

User comments : 4

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Sonhouse
not rated yet Aug 10, 2011
Anyone know how this image would compare resolution wise to the same thing taken by the Hubble?
Sonhouse
5 / 5 (2) Aug 10, 2011
Found the Hubble image:
http://apod.nasa....113.html

Looks like Hubble wins.
LKD
5 / 5 (1) Aug 10, 2011
The ESO has a longer exposure time, but the quality is close to the same if you are just referencing visible to near infra light without the raw images.

I imagine that Hubble got a much better image through infrared though.
hard2grep
not rated yet Aug 11, 2011
getting a great picture isn't always about how big your camera is. I might have taken this with black and white film, and used the three filters for three shots just as above. I can achieve finer detail if I use black and white; although i am unsure if pixels have actually caught up with grain. Sometimes low-tech is the best way to go...