The Hubble space telescope has captured a stunning image of a faraway galaxy known as a barred spiral.
Galaxy NGC 4639 is located over 70 million light-years away from Earth in the constellation of Virgo. NGC 4639 is one of about 1500 galaxies that make up the Virgo Cluster, according to the European Space Agency (ESA), one of NASA’s Hubble partners.
A light year measures the astronomical distance that light travels in one year and is equivalent to 5.8 trillion miles.
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The image clearly shows a “bar” running through the galaxy’s bright, round core, the ESA said, in a statement. “Bars are found in around two thirds of spiral galaxies, and are thought to be a natural phase in their evolution,” it added.
The image on the right can be expanded to show galaxy NGC 4639 (ESA/Hubble & NASA).
NGC 4639’s arms are “sprinkled with bright regions of active star formation,” according to the ESA. “Each of these tiny jewels is actually several hundred light-years across and contains hundreds or thousands of newly formed stars,” it explained.
However, scientists note that the galaxy contains a dark secret at its core - a massive black hole that is consuming the surrounding gas. “This is known as an active galactic nucleus (AGN), and is revealed by characteristic features in the spectrum of light from the galaxy and by X-rays produced close to the black hole as the hot gas plunges towards it,” said the ESA.
The Hubble space telescope, which was launched by NASA in 1990, celebrated its 25th anniversary earlier this year.
Earlier this year astronomers used three telescopes, including the Hubble to spot a baby blue galaxy that is farther away in space than any other galaxy ever seen. The galaxy, named EGS-zs8-1, is 13.1 billion light-years away.