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: Hubble view of a special spiral galaxy

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

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

Finding hints of gravitational waves in the stars

3 hours ago

Scientists have shown how gravitational waves—invisible ripples in the fabric of space and time that propagate through the universe—might be "seen" by looking at the stars. The new model proposes that ...

How gamma ray telescopes work

4 hours ago

Yesterday I talked about the detection of gamma ray bursts, intense blasts of gamma rays that occasionally appear in distant galaxies. Gamma ray bursts were only detected when gamma ray satellites were put ...

The frequency of high-energy gamma ray bursts

6 hours ago

In the 1960s a series of satellites were built as part of Project Vela.  Project Vela was intended to detect violations of the 1963 ban on above ground testing of nuclear weapons.  The Vela satellites were ...

What causes the diffraction spikes in images of stars?

6 hours ago

When stars are portrayed in media, they are often shown with long spikes emanating from them. Perhaps the most common example is that of the "star of Bethlehem" which, according to the story, led the wise ...

User comments : 0