Image: The NGC 5194 spiral galaxy

Jan 28, 2014
Credit: ESA / Herschel / XMM-Newton. Acknowledgements: "Physical Processes in the Interstellar Medium of Very Nearby Galaxies" Key Programme, Christine Wilson

The Whirlpool Galaxy, also known as M51 or NGC 5194, is one of the most spectacular examples of a spiral galaxy. With two spiral arms curling into one another in a billowing swirl, this galaxy hosts over a hundred billion stars and is currently merging with its companion, the smaller galaxy NGC 5195.

Around 30 million light-years away, the Whirlpool Galaxy is close enough to be easily spotted even with binoculars. Using the best telescopes available both on the ground and in space, astronomers can scrutinise its population of in extraordinary detail.

In this image, observations performed at three different wavelengths with ESA's Herschel and XMM-Newton space telescopes are combined to reveal how three generations of stars coexist in the Whirlpool Galaxy.

The infrared light collected by Herschel – shown in red and yellow – reveals the glow of cosmic dust, which is a minor but crucial ingredient in the interstellar material in the galaxy's . This mixture of gas and dust provides the raw material from which the Whirlpool Galaxy's future generations of stars will take shape.

Observing in visible and ultraviolet light, astronomers can see the current population of stars in the Whirlpool Galaxy, since stars in their prime shine most brightly at shorter wavelengths than infrared. Seen at ultraviolet wavelengths with XMM-Newton and portrayed in green in this composite image are the galaxy's fiercest stellar inhabitants: young and massive stars pouring powerful winds and radiation into their surroundings.

The image also shows the remains of previous stellar generations, which shine brightly in X-rays and were detected by XMM-Newton. Shown in blue, these sources of X-rays are either the sites where exploded as supernovae in the past several thousand years, or binary systems that host neutron stars or black holes, the compact objects left behind by supernovae.

Explore further: Precise ages of largest number of stars hosting planets ever measured

Related Stories

Pinwheeling across the sky

Jun 11, 2013

(Phys.org) —The face-on Pinwheel spiral galaxy is seen at ultraviolet wavelengths in this image taken by ESA's XMM-Newton space telescope.

Andromeda's coat of many colors (w/ video)

Apr 27, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- ESA's fleet of space telescopes has captured the nearby Andromeda Galaxy, also known as M31, in different wavelengths. Most of these wavelengths are invisible to the eye and each shows a different aspect ...

Hubble view of a special spiral galaxy

Oct 24, 2013

(Phys.org) —The image, captured by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, shows part of NGC 3621, an unusual spiral galaxy located over 20 million light-years away in the constellation of Hydra (The Water ...

Image: Hot gas sloshing in a galactic cauldron

Nov 19, 2013

(Phys.org) —Galaxies are social beasts that are mostly found in groups or clusters – large assemblies of galaxies that are permeated by even larger amounts of diffuse gas. With temperatures of 10 million ...

Video: Guide to our Galaxy

Nov 22, 2013

This virtual journey shows the different components that make up our home galaxy, the Milky Way, which contains about a hundred billion stars.

Recommended for you

The discovery of the molecule Si-C-Si in space

18 hours ago

The space between stars is not empty—it contains a vast reservoir of diffuse material with about 5-10% of the total mass of our Milky Way galaxy. Most of the material is gas, but about 1% of this mass (quite ...

Hubble view of a nitrogen-rich nebula

19 hours ago

This NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image shows a planetary nebula named NGC 6153, located about 4,000 light-years away in the southern constellation of Scorpius (The Scorpion).

Is the universe ringing like a crystal glass?

Jun 26, 2015

Many know the phrase "the big bang theory." There's even a top television comedy series with that as its title. According to scientists, the universe began with the "big bang" and expanded to the size it ...

Improved sensors help navigate gravity waves

Jun 26, 2015

Efforts to detect gravitational waves—which were first predicted by Albert Einstein nearly 100 years ago—are advancing with international researchers including UWA researchers boosting the sensitivity ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.