A blue whirlpool in The River: Tranquil galaxy home to violent events

Aug 01, 2012
This picture taken with ESO’s Very Large Telescope shows the galaxy NGC 1187. This impressive spiral lies about 60 million light-years away in the constellation of Eridanus (The River). NGC 1187 has hosted two supernova explosions during the last thirty years, the latest one in 2007. Credit: ESO

(Phys.org) -- A new image taken with ESO’s Very Large Telescope shows the galaxy NGC 1187. This impressive spiral lies about 60 million light-years away in the constellation of Eridanus (The River). NGC 1187 has hosted two supernova explosions during the last thirty years, the latest one in 2007. This picture of the galaxy is the most detailed ever taken.

The galaxy NGC 1187 is seen almost face-on, which gives us a good view of its spiral structure. About half a dozen prominent spiral arms can be seen, each containing large amounts of gas and dust. The bluish features in the spiral arms indicate the presence of young stars born out of clouds of interstellar gas.

Looking towards the central regions, we see the bulge of the galaxy glowing yellow. This part of the galaxy is mostly made up of old stars, gas and dust. In the case of NGC 1187, rather than a round bulge, there is a subtle central bar structure. Such bar features are thought to act as mechanisms that channel gas from the spiral arms to the centre, enhancing star formation there.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.
This zoom video sequence starts with a wide view of the large but faint constellation of Eridanus (The River), not far from the more familiar form of Orion (The Hunter). As we zoom in we see a small patch of light that proves to be an attractive spiral galaxy named NGC 1187. The detailed final view shows a new VLT image of this object. Credit: ESO/A. Fujii/Digitized Sky Survey 2. Acknowledgment: Davide De Martin. Music: Disasterpeace

Around the outside of the galaxy many much fainter and more distant can also be seen. Some even shine right through the disc of NGC 1187 itself. Their mostly reddish hues contrast with the pale blue star clusters of the much closer object.

NGC 1187 looks tranquil and unchanging, but it has hosted two supernovae explosions since 1982. A supernova is a violent stellar explosion, resulting from the death of either a massive star or a white dwarf in a binary system. Supernovae are amongst the most energetic events in the Universe and are so bright that they often briefly outshine an entire galaxy before fading from view over several weeks or months. During this short period a supernova can radiate as much energy as the Sun is expected to emit over its entire life span.

In October 1982, the first supernova seen in NGC 1187 — SN 1982R was discovered at ESO's La Silla Observatory and more recently, in 2007, the amateur astronomer Berto Monard in South Africa spotted another supernova in this galaxy — SN 2007Y. A team of astronomers subsequently performed a detailed study and monitored SN 2007Y for about a year using many different telescopes. This new image of NGC 1187 was created from observations taken as part of this study and the supernova can be seen, long after the time of maximum brightness, near the bottom of the image.

These data were acquired using the FORS1 instrument attached to the ESO's Very Large Telescope at the Paranal Observatory in Chile.

Explore further: Thermonuclear X-ray bursts on neutron stars set speed record

More information: Further information about SN 2007Y is available in a paper by Stritzinger et al. arxiv.org/pdf/0902.0609v2.pdf

Related Stories

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 ...

The purple rose of Virgo

Mar 27, 2007

Until now NGC 5584 was just one galaxy among many others, located to the West of the Virgo Cluster. Known only as a number in galaxy surveys, its sheer beauty is now revealed in all its glory in a new VLT image. ...

A spiral galaxy in Hydra

Apr 09, 2012

(Phys.org) -- This image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope shows NGC 4980, a spiral galaxy in the southern constellation of Hydra. The shape of NGC 4980 appears slightly deformed, something which is ...

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 disturbed galactic duo

Apr 20, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- The galaxies in this cosmic pairing, captured by the Wide Field Imager on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile, display some curious features, demonstrating ...

Hubble Snaps Images of a Pinwheel-Shaped Galaxy

Feb 07, 2006

Looking like a child's pinwheel ready to be set a spinning by a gentle breeze, this dramatic spiral galaxy is one of the latest viewed by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. Stunning details of the face-on spiral ...

Recommended for you

How can we find tiny particles in exoplanet atmospheres?

Aug 29, 2014

It may seem like magic, but astronomers have worked out a scheme that will allow them to detect and measure particles ten times smaller than the width of a human hair, even at many light-years distance.  ...

Spitzer telescope witnesses asteroid smashup

Aug 28, 2014

(Phys.org) —NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has spotted an eruption of dust around a young star, possibly the result of a smashup between large asteroids. This type of collision can eventually lead to the ...

Witnessing the early growth of a giant

Aug 27, 2014

Astronomers have uncovered for the first time the earliest stages of a massive galaxy forming in the young Universe. The discovery was made possible through combining observations from the NASA/ESA Hubble ...

User comments : 0