Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2013 July 4
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M82: Starburst Galaxy with a Superwind
Image Credit & Copyright: Ken Crawford (Rancho Del Sol Obs.)

Explanation: Also known as the Cigar Galaxy for its elongated visual appearance, M82 is a starburst galaxy with a superwind. In fact, through ensuing supernova explosions and powerful winds from massive stars, the burst of star formation in M82 is driving a prodigious outflow. Evidence for the superwind from the galaxy's central regions is clear in this sharp telescopic snapshot. The composite image highlights emission from long outflow filaments of atomic hydrogen gas in reddish hues. Some of the gas in the superwind, enriched in heavy elements forged in the massive stars, will eventually escape into intergalactic space. Including narrow band image data in the deep exposure has revealed a faint feature dubbed the cap. Perched about 35,000 light-years above the galaxy at the upper left, the cap appears to be galactic halo material. The material has been ionized by the superwind shock or intense ultraviolet radiation from the young, massive stars in the galaxy's core. Triggered by a close encounter with nearby large galaxy M81, the furious burst of star formation in M82 should last about 100 million years or so. M82 is 12 million light-years distant, near the northern boundary of Ursa Major.

Tomorrow's picture: pixels in space

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