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Astronomy Picture of the Day
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Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2024 February 6 – NGC 1566: A Spiral Galaxy from Webb and Hubble
Explanation: What's different about this galaxy? Very little, which makes the Spanish Dancer galaxy, NGC 1566, one of the most typical and photogenic spirals on the sky. There is something different about this galaxy image, though, because it is a diagonal combination of two images: one by the Hubble Space Telescope on the upper left, and the other by the James Webb Space Telescope on the lower right. The Hubble image was taken in ultraviolet light and highlights the locations of bright blue stars and dark dust along the galaxy's impressive spiral arms. In contrast, the Webb image was taken in infrared light and highlights where the same dust emits more light than it absorbed. In the rollover image, the other two sides of these images are revealed. Blinking between the two images shows which stars are particularly hot because they glow brighter in ultraviolet light, and the difference between seemingly empty space and infrared-glowing dust.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2024 January 1 – NGC 1232: A Grand Design Spiral Galaxy
Explanation: Galaxies are fascinating not only for what is visible, but for what is invisible. Grand spiral galaxy NGC 1232, captured in detail by one of the Very Large Telescopes, is a good example. The visible is dominated by millions of bright stars and dark dust, caught up in a gravitational swirl of spiral arms revolving about the center. Open clusters containing bright blue stars can be seen sprinkled along these spiral arms, while dark lanes of dense interstellar dust can be seen sprinkled between them. Less visible, but detectable, are billions of dim normal stars and vast tracts of interstellar gas, together wielding such high mass that they dominate the dynamics of the inner galaxy. Leading theories indicate that even greater amounts of matter are invisible, in a form we don't yet know. This pervasive dark matter is postulated, in part, to explain the motions of the visible matter in the outer regions of galaxies.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2023 October 11 – NGC 1097: Spiral Galaxy with Supernova
Explanation: What's happening in the lower arm of this spiral galaxy? A supernova. Last month, supernova SN 2023rve was discovered with UAE's Al-Khatim Observatory and later found to be consistent with the death explosion of a massive star, possibly leaving behind a black hole. Spiral galaxy NGC 1097 is a relatively close 45 million light years away and visible with a small telescope toward the southern constellation of the Furnace (Fornax). The galaxy is notable not only for its picturesque spiral arms, but also for faint jets consistent with ancient star streams left over from a galactic collision -- possibly with the small galaxy seen between its arms on the lower left. The featured image highlights the new supernova by blinking between two exposures taken several months apart. Finding supernovas in nearby galaxies can be important in determining the scale and expansion rate of our entire universe -- a topic currently of unexpected tension and much debate.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2023 August 29 – Unusual Spiral Galaxy M66 from Webb
Explanation: Why isn't spiral galaxy M66 symmetric? Usually, density waves of gas, dust, and newly formed stars circle a spiral galaxy's center and create a nearly symmetric galaxy. The differences between M66's spiral arms and the apparent displacement of its nucleus are all likely caused by previous close interactions and the tidal gravitational pulls of nearby galaxy neighbors M65 and NGC 3628. The galaxy, featured here in infrared light taken by the James Webb Space Telescope, spans about 100,000 light years, lies about 35 million light years distant, and is the largest galaxy in a group known as the Leo Triplet. Like many spiral galaxies, the long and intricate dust lanes of M66 are seen intertwined with the bright stars and intergalactic dust that follow the spiral arms.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2023 July 12 – Rings and Bar of Spiral Galaxy NGC 1398
Explanation: Why do some spiral galaxies have a ring around the center? Spiral galaxy NGC 1398 not only has a ring of pearly stars, gas and dust around its center, but a bar of stars and gas across its center, and spiral arms that appear like ribbons farther out. The featured deep image from Observatorio El Sauce in Chile shows the grand spiral galaxy in impressive detail. NGC 1398 lies about 65 million light years distant, meaning the light we see today left this galaxy when dinosaurs were disappearing from the Earth. The photogenic galaxy is visible with a small telescope toward the constellation of the Furnace (Fornax). The ring near the center is likely an expanding density wave of star formation, caused either by a gravitational encounter with another galaxy, or by the galaxy's own gravitational asymmetries.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2023 May 22 – Supernova Discovered in Nearby Spiral Galaxy M101
Explanation: A nearby star has exploded and humanity's telescopes are turning to monitor it. The supernova, dubbed SN 2023ixf, was discovered by Japanese astronomer Koichi Itagaki three days ago and subsequently located on automated images from the Zwicky Transient Facility two days earlier. SN 2023ixf occurred in the photogenic Pinwheel Galaxy M101, which, being only about 21 million light years away, makes it the closest supernova seen in the past five years, the second closest in the past 10 years, and the second supernova found in M101 in the past 15 years. Rapid follow up observations already indicate that SN 2023ixf is a Type II supernova, an explosion that occurs after a massive star runs out of nuclear fuel and collapses. The featured image shows home spiral galaxy two days ago with the supernova highlighted, while the roll-over image shows the same galaxy a month before. SN 2023ixf will likely brighten and remain visible to telescopes for months. Studying such a close and young Type II supernova may yield new clues about massive stars and how they explode.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2023 May 19 - Curly Spiral Galaxy M63
Explanation: A bright spiral galaxy of the northern sky, Messier 63 is nearby, about 30 million light-years distant toward the loyal constellation Canes Venatici. Also cataloged as NGC 5055, the majestic island universe is nearly 100,000 light-years across, about the size of our own Milky Way. Its bright core and majestic spiral arms lend the galaxy its popular name, The Sunflower Galaxy. This exceptionally deep exposure also follows faint, arcing star streams far into the galaxy's halo. Extending nearly 180,000 light-years from the galactic center, the star streams are likely remnants of tidally disrupted satellites of M63. Other satellite galaxies of M63 can be spotted in the remarkable wide-field image, including faint dwarf galaxies, which could contribute to M63's star streams in the next few billion years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2023 May 8 – The Spanish Dancer Spiral Galaxy
Explanation: If not perfect, then this spiral galaxy is at least one of the most photogenic. An island universe containing billions of stars and situated about 40 million light-years away toward the constellation of the Dolphinfish (Dorado), NGC 1566 presents a gorgeous face-on view. Classified as a grand design spiral, NGC 1566 shows two prominent and graceful spiral arms that are traced by bright blue star clusters and dark cosmic dust lanes. Numerous Hubble Space Telescope images of NGC 1566 have been taken to study star formation, supernovas, and the spiral's unusually active center. Some of these images, stored online in the Hubble Legacy Archive, were freely downloaded, combined, and digitally processed by an industrious amateur to create the featured image. NGC 1566's flaring center makes the spiral one of the closest and brightest Seyfert galaxies, likely housing a central supermassive black hole wreaking havoc on surrounding stars and gas.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2023 April 8 – M100: A Grand Design Spiral Galaxy
Explanation: Majestic on a truly cosmic scale, M100 is appropriately known as a grand design spiral galaxy. It is a large galaxy of over 100 billion stars with well-defined spiral arms that is similar to our own Milky Way Galaxy. One of the brightest members of the Virgo Cluster of galaxies, M100 (alias NGC 4321) is 56 million light-years distant toward the constellation of Berenice's Hair (Coma Berenices). This Hubble Space Telescope image of M100 was taken with the Wide Field Camera 3 and accentuates bright blue star clusters and intricate winding dust lanes which are hallmarks of this class of galaxies. Studies of variable stars in M100 have played an important role in determining the size and age of the Universe.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2023 March 23 - Spiral Galaxy NGC 2841
Explanation: A mere 46 million light-years distant, spiral galaxy NGC 2841 can be found in planet Earth's night sky toward the northern constellation of Ursa Major. This sharp image centered on the gorgeous island universe also captures spiky foreground Milky Way stars and more distant background galaxies within the same telescopic field of view. It shows off the bright nucleus of NGC 2841, along with its inclined galactic disk, and faint outer regions. Dust lanes, small star-forming regions, and young star clusters are embedded in the galaxy's patchy, tightly wound spiral arms. In contrast, many other spirals exhibit broader, sweeping arms with large star-forming regions. NGC 2841 has a diameter of over 150,000 light-years, making it even larger than our own Milky Way. X-ray images suggest that extreme outflows from giant stars and stellar explosions create plumes of hot gas extending into a halo around NGC 2841.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2023 February 18 - Barred Spiral Galaxy NGC 1365 from Webb
Explanation: A mere 56 million light-years distant toward the southern constellation Fornax, NGC 1365 is an enormous barred spiral galaxy about 200,000 light-years in diameter. That's twice the size of our own barred spiral Milky Way. This sharp image from the James Webb Space Telescope's Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) reveals stunning details of this magnificent spiral in infrared light. Webb's field of view stretches about 60,000 light-years across NGC 1365, exploring the galaxy's core and bright newborn star clusters. The intricate network of dusty filaments and bubbles is created by young stars along spiral arms winding from the galaxy's central bar. Astronomers suspect the gravity field of NGC 1365's bar plays a crucial role in the galaxy's evolution, funneling gas and dust into a star-forming maelstrom and ultimately feeding material into the active galaxy's central, supermassive black hole.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2023 January 23 – The Colliding Spiral Galaxies of Arp 274
Explanation: Two galaxies are squaring off in Virgo and here are the latest pictures. When two galaxies collide, the stars that compose them usually do not. This is because galaxies are mostly empty space and, however bright, stars only take up only a small fraction of that space. But during the collision, one galaxy can rip the other apart gravitationally, and dust and gas common to both galaxies does collide. If the two galaxies merge, black holes that likely resided in each galaxy center may eventually merge. Because the distances are so large, the whole thing takes place in slow motion -- over hundreds of millions of years. Besides the two large spiral galaxies, a smaller third galaxy is visible on the far left of the featured image of Arp 274, also known as NGC 5679. Arp 274 spans about 200,000 light years across and lies about 400 million light years away toward the constellation of Virgo.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2022 October 16 - Barred Spiral Galaxy NGC 1300
Explanation: Across the center of this spiral galaxy is a bar. And at the center of this bar is smaller spiral. And at the center of that spiral is a supermassive black hole.  This all happens in the big, beautiful, barred spiral galaxy cataloged as NGC 1300, a galaxy that lies some 70 million light-years away toward the constellation of the river Eridanus. This Hubble Space Telescope composite view of the gorgeous island universe is one of the most detailed Hubble images ever made of a complete galaxy. NGC 1300 spans over 100,000 light-years and the Hubble image reveals striking details of the galaxy's dominant central bar and majestic spiral arms. How the giant bar formed, how it remains, and how it affects star formation remains an active topic of research.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2022 July 22 - Spiral Galaxy M74: A Sharper View
Explanation: Beautiful spiral galaxy Messier 74 (also known as NGC 628) lies some 32 million light-years away toward the constellation Pisces. An island universe of about 100 billion stars with two prominent spiral arms, M74 has long been admired by astronomers as a perfect example of a grand-design spiral galaxy. M74's central region is brought into a stunning, sharp focus in this recently processed image using publicly available data from the James Webb Space Telescope. The colorized combination of image data sets is from two of Webb's instruments NIRcam and MIRI, operating at near- and mid-infrared wavelengths. It reveals cooler stars and dusty structures in the grand-design spiral galaxy only hinted at in previous space-based views.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2022 June 23 - Spiral Galaxy NGC 6744
Explanation: Beautiful spiral galaxy NGC 6744 is nearly 175,000 light-years across, larger than our own Milky Way. It lies some 30 million light-years distant in the southern constellation Pavo but appears as only a faint, extended object in small telescopes. We see the disk of the nearby island universe tilted towards our line of sight in this remarkably detailed galaxy portrait, a telescopic view that spans an area about the angular size of a full moon. In it, the giant galaxy's elongated yellowish core is dominated by the light from old, cool stars. Beyond the core, grand spiral arms are filled with young blue star clusters and speckled with pinkish star forming regions. An extended arm sweeps past smaller satellite galaxy NGC 6744A at the lower right. NGC 6744's galactic companion is reminiscent of the Milky Way's satellite galaxy the Large Magellanic Cloud.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2022 March 3 - Spiral Galaxy NGC 2841
Explanation: A mere 46 million light-years distant, spiral galaxy NGC 2841 can be found in the northern constellation of Ursa Major. This deep view of the gorgeous island universe was captured during 32 clear nights in November, December 2021 and January 2022. It shows off a striking yellow nucleus, galactic disk, and faint outer regions. Dust lanes, small star-forming regions, and young star clusters are embedded in the patchy, tightly wound spiral arms. In contrast, many other spirals exhibit grand, sweeping arms with large star-forming regions. NGC 2841 has a diameter of over 150,000 light-years, even larger than our own Milky Way. X-ray images suggest that resulting winds and stellar explosions create plumes of hot gas extending into a halo around NGC 2841.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2022 February 26 - Nearby Spiral Galaxy NGC 4945
Explanation: Large spiral galaxy NGC 4945 is seen nearly edge-on in this cosmic galaxy close-up. It's almost the size of our Milky Way Galaxy. NGC 4945's own dusty disk, young blue star clusters, and pink star forming regions stand out in the colorful telescopic frame. About 13 million light-years distant toward the expansive southern constellation Centaurus, NGC 4945 is only about six times farther away than Andromeda, the nearest large spiral galaxy to the Milky Way. Though this galaxy's central region is largely hidden from view for optical telescopes, X-ray and infrared observations indicate significant high energy emission and star formation in the core of NGC 4945. Its obscured but active nucleus qualifies the gorgeous island universe as a Seyfert galaxy and home to a central supermassive black hole.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2022 February 21 - Barred Spiral Galaxy NGC 6217
Explanation: Many spiral galaxies have bars across their centers. Even our own Milky Way Galaxy is thought to have a modest central bar. Prominently barred spiral galaxy NGC 6217, featured here, was captured in spectacular detail in this image taken by the Advanced Camera for Surveys on the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope in 2009. Visible are dark filamentary dust lanes, young clusters of bright blue stars, red emission nebulas of glowing hydrogen gas, a long bar of stars across the center, and a bright active nucleus that likely houses a supermassive black hole. Light takes about 60 million years to reach us from NGC 6217, which spans about 30,000 light years across and can be found toward the constellation of the Little Bear (Ursa Minor).

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2022 January 14 - NGC 1566: The Spanish Dancer Spiral Galaxy
Explanation: An island universe of billions of stars, NGC 1566 lies about 60 million light-years away in the southern constellation Dorado. Popularly known as the Spanish Dancer galaxy, it's seen face-on from our Milky Way perspective. A gorgeous grand design spiral, this galaxy's two graceful spiral arms span over 100,000 light-years, traced by bright blue star clusters, pinkish starforming regions, and swirling cosmic dust lanes. NGC 1566's flaring center makes the spiral one of the closest and brightest Seyfert galaxies. It likely houses a central supermassive black hole wreaking havoc on surrounding stars, gas, and dust. In this sharp southern galaxy portrait, the spiky stars lie well within the Milky Way.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2021 November 29 - The Extraordinary Spiral in LL Pegasi
Explanation: What created the strange spiral structure on the upper left? No one is sure, although it is likely related to a star in a binary star system entering the planetary nebula phase, when its outer atmosphere is ejected. The huge spiral spans about a third of a light year across and, winding four or five complete turns, has a regularity that is without precedent. Given the expansion rate of the spiral gas, a new layer must appear about every 800 years, a close match to the time it takes for the two stars to orbit each other. The star system that created it is most commonly known as LL Pegasi, but also AFGL 3068 and IRAS 23166+1655. The featured image was taken in near-infrared light by the Hubble Space Telescope. Why the spiral glows is itself a mystery, with a leading hypothesis being illumination by light reflected from nearby stars.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2021 August 13 - A Perfect Spiral
Explanation: If not perfect then this spiral galaxy is at least one of the most photogenic. An island universe of about 100 billion stars, 32 million light-years away toward the constellation Pisces, M74 presents a gorgeous face-on view. Classified as an Sc galaxy, the grand design of M74's graceful spiral arms are traced by bright blue star clusters and dark cosmic dust lanes. This sharp composite was constructed from image data recorded by the Hubble Space Telescope's Advanced Camera for Surveys. Spanning about 30,000 light-years across the face of M74, it includes exposures recording emission from hydrogen atoms, highlighting the reddish glow of the galaxy's large star-forming regions. With a lower surface brightness than most galaxies in the Messier catalog, M74 is sometimes known as the Phantom Galaxy.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2021 February 24 - Spiral Galaxy M66 from Hubble
Explanation: It’s always nice to get a new view of an old friend. This stunning Hubble Space Telescope image of nearby spiral galaxy M66 is just that. A spiral galaxy with a small central bar, M66 is a member of the Leo Galaxy Triplet, a group of three galaxies about 30 million light years from us. The Leo Triplet is a popular target for relatively small telescopes, in part because M66 and its galactic companions M65 and NGC 3628 all appear separated by about the angular width of a full moon. The featured image of M66 was taken by Hubble to help investigate the connection between star formation and molecular gas clouds. Clearly visible are bright blue stars, pink ionized hydrogen clouds -- sprinkled all along the outer spiral arms, and dark dust lanes in which more star formation could be hiding.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2021 February 12 - Spiral Galaxy NGC 1350
Explanation: This gorgeous island universe lies about 85 million light-years distant in the southern constellation Fornax. Inhabited by young blue star clusters, the tightly wound spiral arms of NGC 1350 seem to join in a circle around the galaxy's large, bright nucleus, giving it the appearance of a cosmic eye. In fact, NGC 1350 is about 130,000 light-years across. That makes it as large or slightly larger than the Milky Way. For earth-based astronomers, NGC 1350 is seen on the outskirts of the Fornax cluster of galaxies, but its estimated distance suggests that it is not itself a cluster member. Of course, the bright spiky stars in the foreground of this telescopic field of view are members of our own spiral Milky Way galaxy.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2021 January 24 - Massive Nearby Spiral Galaxy NGC 2841
Explanation: It is one of the more massive galaxies known. A mere 46 million light-years distant, spiral galaxy NGC 2841 can be found in the northern constellation of Ursa Major. This sharp view of the gorgeous island universe shows off a striking yellow nucleus and galactic disk. Dust lanes, small, pink star-forming regions, and young blue star clusters are embedded in the patchy, tightly wound spiral arms. In contrast, many other spirals exhibit grand, sweeping arms with large star-forming regions. NGC 2841 has a diameter of over 150,000 light-years, even larger than our own Milky Way. The featured composite image merges exposures from the orbiting 2.4-meter Hubble Space Telescope and the ground-based 8.2-meter Subaru Telescope. X-ray images suggest that resulting winds and stellar explosions create plumes of hot gas extending into a halo around NGC 2841.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2020 December 4 - Curly Spiral Galaxy M63
Explanation: A bright spiral galaxy of the northern sky, Messier 63 is nearby, about 30 million light-years distant toward the loyal constellation Canes Venatici. Also cataloged as NGC 5055, the majestic island universe is nearly 100,000 light-years across, about the size of our own Milky Way. Its bright core and majestic spiral arms lend the galaxy its popular name, The Sunflower Galaxy, while this exceptionally deep exposure also follows faint, arcing star streams far into the galaxy's halo. Extending nearly 180,000 light-years from the galactic center the star streams are likely remnants of tidally disrupted satellites of M63. Other satellite galaxies of M63 can be spotted in this remarkable wide-field image, made with a small telescope, including five newly identified faint dwarf galaxies, which could contribute to M63's star streams in the next few billion years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2020 October 5 - NGC 5643: Nearby Spiral Galaxy from Hubble
Explanation: What's happening at the center of spiral galaxy NGC 5643? A swirling disk of stars and gas, NGC 5643's appearance is dominated by blue spiral arms and brown dust, as shown in the featured image taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. The core of this active galaxy glows brightly in radio waves and X-rays where twin jets have been found. An unusual central glow makes NGC 5643 one of the closest examples of the Seyfert class of galaxies, where vast amounts of glowing gas are thought to be falling into a central massive black hole. NGC 5643, is a relatively close 55 million light years away, spans about 100 thousand light years across, and can be seen with a small telescope towards the constellation of the Wolf (Lupus).

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2020 June 11 - Barred Spiral Galaxy NGC 1300
Explanation: Big, beautiful, barred spiral galaxy NGC 1300 lies some 70 million light-years away on the banks of the constellation Eridanus. This Hubble Space Telescope composite view of the gorgeous island universe is one of the largest Hubble images ever made of a complete galaxy. NGC 1300 spans over 100,000 light-years and the Hubble image reveals striking details of the galaxy's dominant central bar and majestic spiral arms. In fact, on close inspection the nucleus of this classic barred spiral itself shows a remarkable region of spiral structure about 3,000 light-years across. Like other spiral galaxies, including our own Milky Way, NGC 1300 is thought to have a supermassive central black hole.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2020 April 6 - NGC 1672: Barred Spiral Galaxy from Hubble
Explanation: Many spiral galaxies have bars across their centers. Even our own Milky Way Galaxy is thought to have a modest central bar. Prominently barred spiral galaxy NGC 1672, featured here, was captured in spectacular detail in an image taken by the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope. Visible are dark filamentary dust lanes, young clusters of bright blue stars, red emission nebulas of glowing hydrogen gas, a long bright bar of stars across the center, and a bright active nucleus that likely houses a supermassive black hole. Light takes about 60 million years to reach us from NGC 1672, which spans about 75,000 light years across. NGC 1672, which appears toward the constellation of the Dolphinfish (Dorado), has been studied to find out how a spiral bar contributes to star formation in a galaxy's central regions.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2020 March 17 - M77: Spiral Galaxy with an Active Center
Explanation: What's happening in the center of nearby spiral galaxy M77? The face-on galaxy lies a mere 47 million light-years away toward the constellation of the Sea Monster (Cetus). At that estimated distance, this gorgeous island universe is about 100 thousand light-years across. Also known as NGC 1068, its compact and very bright core is well studied by astronomers exploring the mysteries of supermassive black holes in active Seyfert galaxies. M77 and its active core glows bright at x-ray, ultraviolet, visible, infrared, and radio wavelengths. The featured sharp image of M77 was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope and is dominated by the (visible) red light emitted by hydrogen. The image shows details of the spiral's winding spiral arms as traced by obscuring dust clouds, and red-tinted star forming regions close in to the galaxy's luminous core.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2019 December 16 - The Magnetic Fields of Spiral Galaxy M77
Explanation: Can magnetic fields help tell us how spiral galaxies form and evolve? To find out, the HAWC+ instrument on NASA's airborne (747) SOFIA observatory observed nearby spiral galaxy M77. HAWC+ maps magnetism by observing polarized infrared light emitted by elongated dust grains rotating in alignment with the local magnetic field. The HAWC+ image shows that magnetic fields do appear to trace the spiral arms in the inner regions of M77, arms that likely highlight density waves in the inflowing gas, dust and stars caused by the gravity of the galaxy's oval shape. The featured picture superposes the HAWC+ image over diffuse X-ray emission mapped by NASA's NuSTAR satellite and visible light images taken by Hubble and the SDSS. M77 is located about 47 million light years away toward the constellation of the Sea Monster (Cetus).

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2019 December 5 - Spiral Galaxy NGC 6744
Explanation: Beautiful spiral galaxy NGC 6744 is nearly 175,000 light-years across, larger than our own Milky Way. It lies some 30 million light-years distant in the southern constellation Pavo and appears as only a faint, extended object in small telescopes. We see the disk of the nearby island universe tilted towards our line of sight in this remarkably detailed galaxy portrait, a telescopic view that spans an area about the angular size of a full moon. In it, the giant galaxy's elongated yellowish core is dominated by the light from old, cool stars. Beyond the core, grand spiral arms are filled with young blue star clusters and speckled with pinkish star forming regions. An extended arm sweeps past a smaller satellite galaxy (NGC 6744A) at the lower right. NGC 6744's galactic companion is reminiscent of the Milky Way's satellite galaxy the Large Magellanic Cloud.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2019 November 12 - NGC 3717: A Nearly Sideways Spiral Galaxy
Explanation: Some spiral galaxies are seen nearly sideways. Most bright stars in spiral galaxies swirl around the center in a disk, and seen from the side, this disk can appear quite thin. Some spiral galaxies appear even thinner than NGC 3717, which is actually seen tilted just a bit. Spiral galaxies form disks because the original gas collided with itself and cooled as it fell inward. Planets may orbit in disks for similar reasons. The featured image by the Hubble Space Telescope shows a light-colored central bulge composed of older stars beyond filaments of orbiting dark brown dust. NGC 3717 spans about 100,000 light years and lies about 60 million light years away toward the constellation of the Water Snake (Hydra).

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2019 August 22 - Nearby Spiral Galaxy NGC 4945
Explanation: Large spiral galaxy NGC 4945 is seen edge-on near the center of this cosmic galaxy portrait. In fact, it's almost the size of our Milky Way Galaxy. NGC 4945's own dusty disk, young blue star clusters, and pink star forming regions standout in the sharp, colorful telescopic image. About 13 million light-years distant toward the expansive southern constellation Centaurus, NGC 4945 is only about six times farther away than Andromeda, the nearest large spiral galaxy to the Milky Way. Though this galaxy's central region is largely hidden from view for optical telescopes, X-ray and infrared observations indicate significant high energy emission and star formation in the core of NGC 4945. Its obscured but active nucleus qualifies the gorgeous island universe as a Seyfert galaxy and home to a central supermassive black hole.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2019 August 20 - Animation: Spiral Disk around a Black Hole
Explanation: What would it look like to orbit a black hole? Many black holes are surrounded by swirling pools of gas known as accretion disks. These disks can be extremely hot, and much of the orbiting gas will eventually fall through the black hole's event horizon -- where it will never be seen again. The featured animation is an artist's rendering of the curious disk spiraling around the supermassive black hole at the center of spiral galaxy NGC 3147. Gas at the inner edge of this disk is so close to the black hole that it moves unusually fast -- at 10 percent of the speed of light. Gas this fast shows relativistic beaming, making the side of the disk heading toward us appear significantly brighter than the side moving away. The animation is based on images of NGC 3147 made recently with the Hubble Space Telescope.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2019 July 2 - NGC 1566: The Spanish Dancer Spiral Galaxy
Explanation: If not perfect, then this spiral galaxy is at least one of the most photogenic. An island universe containing billions of stars and situated about 40 million light-years away toward the constellation of the Dolphinfish (Dorado), NGC 1566 presents a gorgeous face-on view. Classified as a grand design spiral, NGC 1566's shows two prominent and graceful spiral arms that are traced by bright blue star clusters and dark cosmic dust lanes. Numerous Hubble Space Telescope images of NGC 1566 have been taken to study star formation, supernovas, and the spiral's unusually active center. Some of these images, stored online in the Hubble Legacy Archive, were freely downloaded, combined, and digitally processed by an industrious amateur to create the featured image. NGC 1566's flaring center makes the spiral one of the closest and brightest Seyfert galaxies, likely housing a central supermassive black hole wreaking havoc on surrounding stars and gas.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2019 June 12 - Spiral Galaxy M96 from Hubble
Explanation: Dust lanes seem to swirl around the core of Messier 96 in this colorful, detailed portrait of the center of a beautiful island universe. Of course M96 is a spiral galaxy, and counting the faint arms extending beyond the brighter central region, it spans 100 thousand light-years or so, making it about the size of our own Milky Way. M96, also known as NGC 3368, is known to be about 35 million light-years distant and a dominant member of the Leo I galaxy group. The featured image was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. The reason for M96's asymmetry is unclear -- it could have arisen from gravitational interactions with other Leo I group galaxies, but the lack of an intra-group diffuse glow seems to indicate few recent interactions. Galaxies far in the background can be found by examining the edges of the picture.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2019 May 29 - M95: Spiral Galaxy with an Inner Ring
Explanation: Why do some spiral galaxies have a ring around the center? First and foremost, M95 is one of the closer examples of a big and beautiful barred spiral galaxy. Visible in the featured combination of images from Hubble and several ground based telescopes are sprawling spiral arms delineated by open clusters of bright blue stars, lanes of dark dust, the diffuse glow of billions of faint stars, and a short bar across the galaxy center. What intrigues many astronomers, however, is the circumnuclear ring around the galaxy center visible just outside the central bar. Although the long term stability of this ring remains a topic of research, observations indicate its present brightness is at least enhanced by transient bursts of star formation. M95, also known as NGC 3351, spans about 50,000 light-years, lies about 30 million light years away, and can be seen with a small telescope toward the constellation of the Lion (Leo).

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2019 May 15 - Anemic Spiral NGC 4921 from Hubble
Explanation: How far away is spiral galaxy NGC 4921? It's surpringly important to know. Although presently estimated to be about 300 million light years distant, a more precise determination could be coupled with its known recession speed to help humanity better calibrate the expansion rate of the entire visible universe. Toward this goal, several images were taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in order to help identify key stellar distance markers known as Cepheid variable stars. Since NGC 4921 is a member of the Coma Cluster of Galaxies, refining its distance would also allow a better distance determination to one of the largest nearby clusters in the local universe. The magnificent spiral NGC 4921 has been informally dubbed anemic because of its low rate of star formation and low surface brightness. Visible in the featured image are, from the center, a bright nucleus, a bright central bar, a prominent ring of dark dust, blue clusters of recently formed stars, several smaller companion galaxies, unrelated galaxies in the far distant universe, and unrelated stars in our Milky Way Galaxy.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2019 April 21 - Spiral Aurora over Icelandic Divide
Explanation: Admire the beauty but fear the beast. The beauty is the aurora overhead, here taking the form of great green spiral, seen between picturesque clouds with the bright Moon to the side and stars in the background. The beast is the wave of charged particles that creates the aurora but might, one day, impair civilization. In 1859, following notable auroras seen all across the globe, a pulse of charged particles from a coronal mass ejection (CME) associated with a solar flare impacted Earth's magnetosphere so forcefully that they created the Carrington Event. A relatively direct path between the Sun and the Earth might have been cleared by a preceding CME. What is sure is that the Carrington Event compressed the Earth's magnetic field so violently that currents were created in telegraph wires so great that many wires sparked and gave telegraph operators shocks. Were a Carrington-class event to impact the Earth today, speculation holds that damage might occur to global power grids and electronics on a scale never yet experienced. The featured aurora was imaged in 2016 over Thingvallavatn Lake in Iceland, a lake that partly fills a fault that divides Earth's large Eurasian and North American tectonic plates.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2019 March 17 - M106: A Spiral Galaxy with a Strange Center
Explanation: What's happening at the center of spiral galaxy M106? A swirling disk of stars and gas, M106's appearance is dominated by blue spiral arms and red dust lanes near the nucleus, as shown in the featured image. The core of M106 glows brightly in radio waves and X-rays where twin jets have been found running the length of the galaxy. An unusual central glow makes M106 one of the closest examples of the Seyfert class of galaxies, where vast amounts of glowing gas are thought to be falling into a central massive black hole. M106, also designated NGC 4258, is a relatively close 23.5 million light years away, spans 60 thousand light years across, and can be seen with a small telescope towards the constellation of the Hunting Dogs (Canes Venatici).

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2019 February 19 - Comet Iwamoto Before Spiral Galaxy NGC 2903
Explanation: It isn't every night that a comet passes a galaxy. Last Thursday, though, binocular comet C/2018 Y1 (Iwamoto) moved nearly in front of a spiral galaxy of approximately the same brightness: NGC 2903. Comet Iwamoto was discovered late last year and orbits the Sun in a long ellipse. It last visited the inner Solar System during the Middle Ages, around the year 648. The comet reached its closest point to the Sun -- between Earth and Mars -- on February 6, and its closest point to Earth a few days ago, on February 13. The featured time-lapse video condenses almost three hours into about ten seconds, and was captured last week from Switzerland. At that time Comet Iwamoto, sporting a green coma, was about 10 light minutes distant, while spiral galaxy NGC 2903 remained about 30 million light years away. Two satellites zip diagonally through the field about a third of the way through the video. Typically, a few comets each year become as bright as Comet Iwamoto.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2019 January 28 - The Long Gas Tail of Spiral Galaxy D100
Explanation: Why is there long red streak attached to this galaxy? The streak is made mostly of glowing hydrogen that has been systematically stripped away as the galaxy moved through the ambient hot gas in a cluster of galaxies. Specifically, the galaxy is spiral galaxy D100, and cluster is the Coma Cluster of galaxies. The red path connects to the center of D100 because the outer gas, gravitationally held less strongly, has already been stripped away by ram pressure. The extended gas tail is about 200,000 light-years long, contains about 400,000 times the mass of our Sun, and stars are forming within it. Galaxy D99, visible to D100's lower left, appears red because it glows primarily from the light of old red stars -- young blue stars can no longer form because D99 has been stripped of its star-forming gas. The featured false-color picture is a digitally enhanced composite of images from Earth-orbiting Hubble and the ground-based Subaru telescope. Studying remarkable systems like this bolsters our understanding of how galaxies evolve in clusters.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2018 December 25 - M100: A Grand Design Spiral Galaxy
Explanation: Majestic on a truly cosmic scale, M100 is appropriately known as a grand design spiral galaxy. It is a large galaxy of over 100 billion stars with well-defined spiral arms that is similar to our own Milky Way Galaxy. One of the brightest members of the Virgo Cluster of galaxies, M100 (alias NGC 4321) is 56 million light-years distant toward the constellation of Berenice's Hair (Coma Berenices). This Hubble Space Telescope image of M100 was taken recently with the Wide Field Camera 3 and accentuates bright blue star clusters and intricate winding dust lanes which are hallmarks of this class of galaxies. Studies of variable stars in M100 have played an important role in determining the size and age of the Universe.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2018 October 9 - NGC 1672: Barred Spiral Galaxy from Hubble
Explanation: Many spiral galaxies have bars across their centers. Even our own Milky Way Galaxy is thought to have a modest central bar. Prominently barred spiral galaxy NGC 1672, featured here, was captured in spectacular detail in an image taken by the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope. Visible are dark filamentary dust lanes, young clusters of bright blue stars, red emission nebulas of glowing hydrogen gas, a long bright bar of stars across the center, and a bright active nucleus that likely houses a supermassive black hole. Light takes about 60 million years to reach us from NGC 1672, which spans about 75,000 light years across. NGC 1672, which appears toward the constellation of the Dolphinfish (Dorado), is being studied to find out how a spiral bar contributes to star formation in a galaxy's central regions.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2018 September 5 - NGC 3628: Sideways Spiral Galaxy
Explanation: What do spiral galaxies look like sideways? Featured is a sharp telescopic view of a magnificent edge-on spiral galaxy NGC 3628, a puffy galactic disk divided by dark dust lanes. Of course, this deep galactic portrait puts some astronomers in mind of its popular moniker, The Hamburger Galaxy. The tantalizing island universe is about 100,000 light-years across and 35 million light-years away in the northern springtime constellation Leo. NGC 3628 shares its neighborhood in the local Universe with two other large spirals M65 and M66 in a grouping otherwise known as the Leo Triplet. Gravitational interactions with its cosmic neighbors are likely responsible for the extended flare and warp of this spiral's disk.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2018 August 10 - Spiral Galaxy NGC 6744
Explanation: Beautiful spiral galaxy NGC 6744 is nearly 175,000 light-years across, larger than our own Milky Way. It lies some 30 million light-years distant in the southern constellation Pavo and appears as only a faint, extended object in small telescopes. We see the disk of the nearby island universe tilted towards our line of sight. This remarkably detailed galaxy portrait covers an area about the angular size of the full moon. In it, the giant galaxy's elongated yellowish core is dominated by the light from old, cool stars. Beyond the core, grand spiral arms are filled with young blue star clusters and speckled with pinkish star forming regions. An extended arm sweeps past a smaller satellite galaxy at the upper left. NGC 6744's galactic companion is reminiscent of the Milky Way's satellite galaxy the Large Magellanic Cloud.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2018 July 8 - The Extraordinary Spiral in LL Pegasi
Explanation: What created the strange spiral structure on the upper left? No one is sure, although it is likely related to a star in a binary star system entering the planetary nebula phase, when its outer atmosphere is ejected. The huge spiral spans about a third of a light year across and, winding four or five complete turns, has a regularity that is without precedent. Given the expansion rate of the spiral gas, a new layer must appear about every 800 years, a close match to the time it takes for the two stars to orbit each other. The star system that created it is most commonly known as LL Pegasi, but also AFGL 3068. The unusual structure itself has been cataloged as IRAS 23166+1655. The featured image was taken in near-infrared light by the Hubble Space Telescope. Why the spiral glows is itself a mystery, with a leading hypothesis being illumination by light reflected from nearby stars.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2018 January 23 - Ribbons and Pearls of Spiral Galaxy NGC 1398
Explanation: Why do some spiral galaxies have a ring around the center? Spiral galaxy NGC 1398 not only has a ring of pearly stars, gas and dust around its center, but a bar of stars and gas across its center, and spiral arms that appear like ribbons farther out. The featured image was taken with ESO's Very Large Telescope at the Paranal Observatory in Chile and resolves this grand spiral in impressive detail. NGC 1398 lies about 65 million light years distant, meaning the light we see today left this galaxy when dinosaurs were disappearing from the Earth. The photogenic galaxy is visible with a small telescope toward the constellation of the Furnace (Fornax). The ring near the center is likely an expanding density wave of star formation, caused either by a gravitational encounter with another galaxy, or by the galaxy's own gravitational asymmetries.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2017 December 26 - Grand Spiral Galaxy NGC 1232
Explanation: Galaxies are fascinating not only for what is visible, but for what is invisible. Grand spiral galaxy NGC 1232, captured in detail by one of the Very Large Telescopes, is a good example. The visible is dominated by millions of bright stars and dark dust, caught up in a gravitational swirl of spiral arms revolving about the center. Open clusters containing bright blue stars can be seen sprinkled along these spiral arms, while dark lanes of dense interstellar dust can be seen sprinkled between them. Less visible, but detectable, are billions of dim normal stars and vast tracts of interstellar gas, together wielding such high mass that they dominate the dynamics of the inner galaxy. Leading theories indicate that even greater amounts of matter are invisible, in a form we don't yet know. This pervasive dark matter is postulated, in part, to explain the motions of the visible matter in the outer regions of galaxies.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2017 December 19 - The Spiral North Pole of Mars
Explanation: Why is there a spiral around the North Pole of Mars? Each winter this pole develops a new outer layer about one meter thick composed of carbon dioxide frozen out of the thin Martian atmosphere. This fresh layer is deposited on a water-ice layer that exists year round. Strong winds blow down from above the cap's center and swirl due to the spin of the red planet -- contributing to Planum Boreum's spiral structure. The featured image is a perspective mosaic generated earlier this year from numerous images taken by ESA's Mars Express and elevations extracted from the laser altimeter aboard NASA's Mars Global Surveyor mission. New missions to Mars planned in the next few years include Insight with plans to drill into Mars, and ExoMars and the Mars 2020 Rover with plans to search for signs of microscopic Martian life -- past and present.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2017 September 17 - Bright Spiral Galaxy M81
Explanation: One of the brightest galaxies in planet Earth's sky is similar in size to our Milky Way Galaxy: big, beautiful M81. This grand spiral galaxy can be found toward the northern constellation of the Great Bear (Ursa Major). This superbly detailed view reveals M81's bright yellow nucleus, blue spiral arms, and sweeping cosmic dust lanes with a scale comparable to the Milky Way. Hinting at a disorderly past, a remarkable dust lane actually runs straight through the disk, to the left of the galactic center, contrary to M81's other prominent spiral features. The errant dust lane may be the lingering result of a close encounter between M81 and its smaller companion galaxy, M82. Scrutiny of variable stars in M81 has yielded one of the best determined distances for an external galaxy -- 11.8 million light-years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2017 August 7 - Spiral Galaxy NGC 1512: The Inner Ring
Explanation: Most galaxies don't have any rings -- why does this galaxy have two? To begin, the bright band near NGC 1512's center is a nuclear ring, a ring that surrounds the galaxy center and glows brightly with recently formed stars. Most stars and accompanying gas and dust, however, orbit the galactic center in a ring much further out -- here seen near the image edge. This ring is called, counter-intuitively, the inner ring. If you look closely, you will see this the inner ring connects ends of a diffuse central bar that runs horizontally across the galaxy. These ring structures are thought to be caused by NGC 1512's own asymmetries in a drawn-out process called secular evolution. The gravity of these galaxy asymmetries, including the bar of stars, cause gas and dust to fall from the inner ring to the nuclear ring, enhancing this ring's rate of star formation. Some spiral galaxies also have a third ring -- an outer ring that circles the galaxy even further out.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2017 July 10 - Spiral Galaxy NGC 1512: The Nuclear Ring
Explanation: What's happening around the center of this spiral galaxy? Seen in total, NGC 1512 appears to be a barred spiral galaxy -- a type of spiral that has a straight bar of stars across its center. This bar crosses an inner ring, though, a ring not seen as it surrounds the pictured region. Featured in this Hubble Space Telescope image is a "nuclear ring" -- one that surrounds the nucleus of the spiral. The two rings are connected not only by a bar of bright stars but by dark lanes of dust. Inside of this nuclearring, dust continues to spiral right into the very center -- possibly the location of a large black hole. The rings are bright with newly formed stars.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2017 May 26 - Spiral Galaxy NGC 6744
Explanation: Big, beautiful spiral galaxy NGC 6744 is nearly 175,000 light-years across, larger than our own Milky Way. It lies some 30 million light-years distant in the southern constellation Pavo appearing as a faint, extended object in small telescopes. We see the disk of the nearby island universe tilted towards our line of sight. This remarkably distinct and detailed galaxy portrait covers an area about the angular size of the full moon. In it, the giant galaxy's yellowish core is dominated by the light from old, cool stars. Beyond the core, spiral arms filled with young blue star clusters and pinkish star forming regions sweep past a smaller satellite galaxy at the lower left, reminiscent of the Milky Way's satellite galaxy the Large Magellanic Cloud.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2017 May 25 - Star Cluster, Spiral Galaxy, Supernova
Explanation: A cosmic snapshot from May 19, this colorful telescopic field of view spans about 1 degree or 2 full moons on the sky. Spiky in appearance, foreground Milky Way stars are scattered toward the royal constellation Cepheus while stars of open cluster NGC 6939 gather about 5 thousand light-years in the distance near the top of the frame. Face-on spiral galaxy NGC 6946 is toward the lower left nearly 22 million light-years away. The helpful red lines identify recently discovered supernova SN 2017eaw, the death explosion of a massive star nestled in the galaxy's bluish spiral arms. In fact in the last 100 years, 10 supernovae have been discovered in NGC 6946. By comparison, the average rate of supernovae in our Milky Way is about 1 every 100 years or so. Of course, NGC 6946 is also known as The Fireworks Galaxy.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2017 January 9 - In the Center of Spiral Galaxy NGC 5033
Explanation: What's happening in the center of spiral NGC 5033? Many things -- some circular, some energetic, and some not well understood. NGC 5033 is known as a Seyfert galaxy because of the great activity seen in its nucleus. Bright stars, dark dust, and interstellar gas all swirl quickly around a galactic center that appears slightly offset from a supermassive black hole. This offset is thought to be the result of NGC 5033 merging with another galaxy sometime in the past billion years. The featured image was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2005. NGC 5033 spans about 100,000 light years and is so far away that we see it only as it existed about 40 million years ago.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2016 December 11 - The Extraordinary Spiral in LL Pegasi
Explanation: What created the strange spiral structure on the left? No one is sure, although it is likely related to a star in a binary star system entering the planetary nebula phase, when its outer atmosphere is ejected. The huge spiral spans about a third of a light year across and, winding four or five complete turns, has a regularity that is without precedent. Given the expansion rate of the spiral gas, a new layer must appear about every 800 years, a close match to the time it takes for the two stars to orbit each other. The star system that created it is most commonly known as LL Pegasi, but also AFGL 3068. The unusual structure itself has been cataloged as IRAS 23166+1655. The featured image was taken in near-infrared light by the Hubble Space Telescope. Why the spiral glows is itself a mystery, with a leading hypothesis being illumination by light reflected from nearby stars.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2016 November 20 - NGC 4414: A Flocculent Spiral Galaxy
Explanation: How much mass do flocculent spirals hide? The featured true color image of flocculent spiral galaxy NGC 4414 was taken with the Hubble Space Telescope to help answer this question. The featured image was augmented with data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS). Flocculent spirals -- galaxies without well-defined spiral arms -- are a quite common form of galaxy, and NGC 4414 is one of the closest. Stars and gas near the visible edge of spiral galaxies orbit the center so fast that the gravity from a large amount of unseen dark matter must be present to hold them together. Understanding the matter and dark matter distribution of NGC 4414 helps humanity calibrate the rest of the galaxy and, by deduction, flocculent spirals in general. Further, calibrating the distance to NGC 4414 helps humanity calibrate the cosmological distance scale of the entire visible universe.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2016 September 13 - NGC 1672: Barred Spiral Galaxy from Hubble
Explanation: Many spiral galaxies have bars across their centers. Even our own Milky Way Galaxy is thought to have a modest central bar. Prominently barred spiral galaxy NGC 1672, featured here, was captured in spectacular detail in an image taken by the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope. Visible are dark filamentary dust lanes, young clusters of bright blue stars, red emission nebulas of glowing hydrogen gas, a long bright bar of stars across the center, and a bright active nucleus that likely houses a supermassive black hole. Light takes about 60 million years to reach us from NGC 1672, which spans about 75,000 light years across. NGC 1672, which appears toward the constellation of the Dolphinfish (Dorado), is being studied to find out how a spiral bar contributes to star formation in a galaxy's central regions.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2016 September 5 - Spiral Meteor through the Heart Nebula
Explanation: What is this meteor doing? Dynamically, the unusually short and asymmetric train may indicate that the sand-sized grain at the center of the glow is momentarily spinning as it ablates, causing its path to be slightly spiral. Geographically, the meteor appears to be going through the Heart Nebula, although really it is in Earth's atmosphere and so is about one quadrillion times closer. Taken last month on the night of the peak, this meteor is likely from the Perseid meteor shower. The Perseids radiant, in the constellation of Perseus, is off the frame to the upper right, toward the direction that the meteor streak is pointing. The Heart Nebula was imaged in 18 one-minute exposures, of which the unusual meteor streak appeared on just one. The meteor train is multicolored as its glow emanates from different elements in the heated gas.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2016 July 14 - NGC 1309: Spiral Galaxy and Friends
Explanation: A gorgeous spiral galaxy some 100 million light-years distant, NGC 1309 lies on the banks of the constellation of the River (Eridanus). NGC 1309 spans about 30,000 light-years, making it about one third the size of our larger Milky Way galaxy. Bluish clusters of young stars and dust lanes are seen to trace out NGC 1309's spiral arms as they wind around an older yellowish star population at its core. Not just another pretty face-on spiral galaxy, observations of NGC 1309's recent supernova and Cepheid variable stars contribute to the calibration of the expansion of the Universe. Still, after you get over this beautiful galaxy's grand design, check out the array of more distant background galaxies also recorded in this sharp, reprocessed, Hubble Space Telescope view.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2016 June 21 - NGC 6814: Grand Design Spiral Galaxy from Hubble
Explanation: In the center of this serene stellar swirl is likely a harrowing black-hole beast. The surrounding swirl sweeps around billions of stars which are highlighted by the brightest and bluest. The breadth and beauty of the display give the swirl the designation of a grand design spiral galaxy. The central beast shows evidence that it is a supermassive black hole about 10 million times the mass of our Sun. This ferocious creature devours stars and gas and is surrounded by a spinning moat of hot plasma that emits blasts of X-rays. The central violent activity gives it the designation of a Seyfert galaxy. Together, this beauty and beast are cataloged as NGC 6814 and have been appearing together toward the constellation of the Eagle (Aquila) for roughly the past billion years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2016 June 6 - The Supernova and Cepheids of Spiral Galaxy UGC 9391
Explanation: What can this galaxy tell us about the expansion rate of the universe? Perhaps a lot because UGC 9391, featured, not only contains Cepheid variable stars (red circles) but also a recent Type Ia supernova (blue X). Both types of objects have standard brightnesses, with Cepheids typically being seen relatively nearby, while supernovas are seen much farther away. Therefore, this spiral is important because it allows a calibration between the near and distant parts of our universe. Unexpectedly, a recent analysis of new Hubble data from UGC 9391 and several similar galaxies has bolstered previous indications that Cepheids and supernovas are expanding with the universe slightly faster than expected from expansion measurements of the early universe. Given the multiple successes of early universe concordance cosmology, astrophysicists are now vigorously speculating about possible reasons for this discrepancy. Candidate explanations range from the sensational, such as the inclusion of unusual cosmological components types such as phantom energy and dark radiation, to the mundane, including statistical flukes and underestimated sources of systematic errors. Numerous future observations are being planned to help resolve the conundrum.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2016 April 26 - NGC 6872: A Stretched Spiral Galaxy
Explanation: What makes this spiral galaxy so long? Measuring over 700,000 light years across from top to bottom, NGC 6872, also known as the Condor galaxy, is one of the most elongated barred spiral galaxies known. The galaxy's protracted shape likely results from its continuing collision with the smaller galaxy IC 4970, visible just above center. Of particular interest is NGC 6872's spiral arm on the upper left, as pictured here, which exhibits an unusually high amount of blue star forming regions. The light we see today left these colliding giants before the days of the dinosaurs, about 300 million years ago. NGC 6872 is visible with a small telescope toward the constellation of the Peacock (Pavo).

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2016 March 1 - NGC 3310: A Starburst Spiral Galaxy
Explanation: The party is still going on in spiral galaxy NGC 3310. Roughly 100 million years ago, NGC 3310 likely collided with a smaller galaxy causing the large spiral galaxy to light up with a tremendous burst of star formation. The changing gravity during the collision created density waves that compressed existing clouds of gas and triggered the star-forming party. The featured image from the Gemini North Telescope shows the galaxy in great detail, color-coded so that pink highlights gas while white and blue highlight stars. Some of the star clusters in the galaxy are quite young, indicating that starburst galaxies may remain in star-burst mode for quite some time. NGC 3310 spans about 50,000 light years, lies about 50 million light years away, and is visible with a small telescope towards the constellation of Ursa Major.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2016 January 9 - Barred Spiral Galaxy NGC 1300
Explanation: Big, beautiful, barred spiral galaxy NGC 1300 lies some 70 million light-years away on the banks of the constellation Eridanus. This Hubble Space Telescope composite view of the gorgeous island universe is one of the largest Hubble images ever made of a complete galaxy. NGC 1300 spans over 100,000 light-years and the Hubble image reveals striking details of the galaxy's dominant central bar and majestic spiral arms. In fact, on close inspection the nucleus of this classic barred spiral itself shows a remarkable region of spiral structure about 3,000 light-years across. Like other spiral galaxies, including our own Milky Way, NGC 1300 is thought to have a supermassive central black hole.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 November 30 - In the Center of Spiral Galaxy NGC 3521
Explanation: This huge swirling mass of stars, gas, and dust occurs near the center of a nearby spiral galaxy. Gorgeous spiral NGC 3521 is a mere 35 million light-years distant, toward the constellation Leo. Spanning some 50,000 light-years, its central region is shown in this dramatic image, constructed from data from the Hubble Space Telescope. The close-up view highlights this galaxy's characteristic multiple, patchy, irregular spiral arms laced with dust and clusters of young, blue stars. In contrast, many other spirals exhibit grand, sweeping arms. A relatively bright galaxy in planet Earth's sky, NGC 3521 is easily visible in small telescopes, but often overlooked by amateur imagers in favor of other Leo spiral galaxies, like M65 and M66.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 October 17 - Bright Spiral Galaxy M81
Explanation: One of the brightest galaxies in planet Earth's sky is similar in size to our Milky Way Galaxy: big, beautiful M81. The grand spiral galaxy can be found toward the northern constellation of the Great Bear (Ursa Major). This superbly detailed image reveals M81's bright yellow nucleus, blue spiral arms, tell tale pinkish star forming regions, and sweeping cosmic dust lanes with a scale comparable to the Milky Way. Hinting at a disorderly past, a remarkable dust lane actually runs straight through the disk, to the left of the galactic center, contrary to M81's other prominent spiral features. The errant dust lane may be the lingering result of a close encounter between between M81 and its smaller companion galaxy, M82. Scrutiny of variable stars in M81 has yielded one of the best determined distances for an external galaxy -- 11.8 million light-years. M81's dwarf companion galaxy Holmberg IX can be seen just above the large spiral.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 September 21 - Spiral Galaxy M96 from Hubble
Explanation: Dust lanes seem to swirl around the core of Messier 96 in this colorful, detailed portrait of the center of a beautiful island universe. Of course M96 is a spiral galaxy, and counting the faint arms extending beyond the brighter central region, it spans 100 thousand light-years or so, making it about the size of our own Milky Way. M96, also known as NGC 3368, is known to be about 35 million light-years distant and a dominant member of the Leo I galaxy group. The featured image was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. The reason for M96's asymmetry is unclear -- it could have arisen from gravitational interactions with other Leo I group galaxies, but the lack of an intra-group diffuse glow seems to indicate few recent interactions. Galaxies far in the background can be found by examining the edges of the picture.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 September 15 - A Spiral Aurora over Iceland
Explanation: What's happened to the sky? Aurora! Captured late last month, this aurora was noted by Icelanders for its great brightness and quick development. The aurora resulted from a solar storm, with high energy particles bursting out from the Sun and through a crack in Earth's protective magnetosphere a few days later. Although a spiral pattern can be discerned, creative humans might imagine the complex glow as an atmospheric apparition of any number of common icons. In the foreground of the featured image is the lfus River, while the lights illuminate a bridge in Selfoss City. Just beyond the low clouds is a nearly full Moon. The liveliness of the Sun -- and the resulting auroras on Earth -- is slowly diminishing as the Sun emerges from a Solar maximum of surface activity and evolves towards a historically more quite period in its 11-year cycle. In fact, solar astronomers are waiting to see if the coming Solar minimum will be as unusually quiet as the last one, where sometimes months would go by with no discernible sunspots or other active solar phenomena.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 May 28 - Nearby Spiral Galaxy NGC 4945
Explanation: Large spiral galaxy NGC 4945 is seen edge-on near the center of this cosmic galaxy portrait. In fact, NGC 4945 is almost the size of our own Milky Way Galaxy. Its own dusty disk, young blue star clusters, and pink star forming regions standout in the sharp, colorful telescopic image. About 13 million light-years distant toward the expansive southern constellation Centaurus, NGC 4945 is only about six times farther away than Andromeda, the nearest large spiral galaxy to the Milky Way. Though the galaxy's central region is largely hidden from view for optical telescopes, X-ray and infrared observations indicate significant high energy emission and star formation in the core of NGC 4945. Its obscured but active nucleus qualifies the gorgeous island universe as a Seyfert galaxy and home to a central supermassive black hole.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 April 28 - Massive Nearby Spiral Galaxy NGC 2841
Explanation: It is one of the more massive galaxies known. A mere 46 million light-years distant, spiral galaxy NGC 2841 can be found in the northern constellation of Ursa Major. This sharp view of the gorgeous island universe shows off a striking yellow nucleus and galactic disk. Dust lanes, small, pink star-forming regions, and young blue star clusters are embedded in the patchy, tightly wound spiral arms. In contrast, many other spirals exhibit grand, sweeping arms with large star-forming regions. NGC 2841 has a diameter of over 150,000 light-years, even larger than our own Milky Way and captured by this composite image merging exposures from the orbiting 2.4-meter Hubble Space Telescope and the ground-based 8.2-meter Subaru Telescope. X-ray images suggest that resulting winds and stellar explosions create plumes of hot gas extending into a halo around NGC 2841.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 April 16 - One-Armed Spiral Galaxy NGC 4725
Explanation: While most spiral galaxies, including our own Milky Way, have two or more spiral arms, NGC 4725 has only one. In this sharp color composite image, the solo spira mirabilis seems to wind from a prominent ring of bluish, newborn star clusters and red tinted star forming regions. The odd galaxy also sports obscuring dust lanes a yellowish central bar structure composed of an older population of stars. NGC 4725 is over 100 thousand light-years across and lies 41 million light-years away in the well-groomed constellation Coma Berenices. Computer simulations of the formation of single spiral arms suggest that they can be either leading or trailing arms with respect to a galaxy's overall rotation. Also included in the frame, sporting a noticably more traditional spiral galaxy look, is a more distant background galaxy.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 February 16 - M106: A Spiral Galaxy with a Strange Center
Explanation: What's happening at the center of spiral galaxy M106? A swirling disk of stars and gas, M106's appearance is dominated by blue spiral arms and red dust lanes near the nucleus, as shown in the featured image. The core of M106 glows brightly in radio waves and X-rays where twin jets have been found running the length of the galaxy. An unusual central glow makes M106 one of the closest examples of the Seyfert class of galaxies, where vast amounts of glowing gas are thought to be falling into a central massive black hole. M106, also designated NGC 4258, is a relatively close 23.5 million light years away, spans 60 thousand light years across, and can be seen with a small telescope towards the constellation of the Hunting Dogs (Canes Venatici).

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2015 February 11 - M100: A Grand Design Spiral Galaxy
Explanation: Majestic on a truly cosmic scale, M100 is appropriately known as a grand design spiral galaxy. It is a large galaxy of over 100 billion stars with well-defined spiral arms that is similar to our own Milky Way Galaxy. One of the brightest members of the Virgo Cluster of galaxies, M100 (alias NGC 4321) is 56 million light-years distant toward the constellation of Berenice's Hair (Coma Berenices). This Hubble Space Telescope image of M100 was made in 2009 and reveals bright blue star clusters and intricate winding dust lanes which are hallmarks of this class of galaxies. Studies of variable stars in M100 have played an important role in determining the size and age of the Universe. If you know exactly where to look, you can find a small spot that is a light echo from a bright supernova that was recorded a few years before the image was taken.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2014 November 19 - Bright Spiral Galaxy M81
Explanation: One of the brightest galaxies in planet Earth's sky is similar in size to our Milky Way Galaxy: big, beautiful M81. This grand spiral galaxy can be found toward the northern constellation of the Great Bear (Ursa Major). This superbly detailed view reveals M81's bright yellow nucleus, blue spiral arms, and sweeping cosmic dust lanes with a scale comparable to the Milky Way. Hinting at a disorderly past, a remarkable dust lane actually runs straight through the disk, to the left of the galactic center, contrary to M81's other prominent spiral features. The errant dust lane may be the lingering result of a close encounter between M81 and its smaller companion galaxy, M82. Scrutiny of variable stars in M81 has yielded one of the best determined distances for an external galaxy -- 11.8 million light-years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2014 August 8 - Spiral Galaxy NGC 6744
Explanation: Big, beautiful spiral galaxy NGC 6744 is nearly 175,000 light-years across, larger than our own Milky Way. It lies some 30 million light-years distant in the southern constellation Pavo. We see the disk of the nearby island universe tilted towards our line of sight. Orientation and composition give a strong sense of depth to this colorful galaxy portrait that covers an area about the angular size of the full moon. This giant galaxy's yellowish core is dominated by the light from old, cool stars. Beyond the core, spiral arms filled with young blue star clusters and pinkish star forming regions sweep past a smaller satellite galaxy at the lower left, reminiscent of the Milky Way's satellite galaxy the Large Magellanic Cloud.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2014 May 20 - In the Center of Spiral Galaxy M61
Explanation: M61 is a barred spiral galaxy located in the nearby Virgo Cluster of Galaxies. Visible in M61 are a host of features common to spiral galaxies: bright spiral arms, a central bar, dust lanes, and bright knots of stars. M61, also known as NGC 4303, in similar to our own Milky Way Galaxy. M61 was discovered by telescope in 1779 twice on the same day, but one observer initially mistook the galaxy for a comet. Light from M61 takes about 55 million years to reach us. The above image of the central regions of M61 was taken with the Hubble Space Telescope and adapted for release as part of the Hubble's Hidden Treasures image processing competition.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2014 April 21 - Massive Nearby Spiral Galaxy NGC 2841
Explanation: It is one of the more massive galaxies known. A mere 46 million light-years distant, spiral galaxy NGC 2841 can be found in the northern constellation of Ursa Major. This sharp view of the gorgeous island universe shows off a striking yellow nucleus and galactic disk. Dust lanes, small, pink star-forming regions, and young blue star clusters are embedded in the patchy, tightly wound spiral arms. In contrast, many other spirals exhibit grand, sweeping arms with large star-forming regions. NGC 2841 has a diameter of over 150,000 light-years, even larger than our own Milky Way and captured by this composite image merging exposures from the orbiting 2.4-meter Hubble Space Telescope and the ground-based 8.2-meter Subaru Telescope. X-ray images suggest that resulting winds and stellar explosions create plumes of hot gas extending into a halo around NGC 2841.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2014 February 5 - NGC 2683: Edge On Spiral Galaxy
Explanation: Does spiral galaxy NGC 2683 have a bar across its center? Being so nearly like our own barred Milky Way Galaxy, one might guess it has. Being so nearly edge-on, however, it is hard to tell. Either way, this gorgeous island universe, cataloged as NGC 2683, lies a mere 20 million light-years distant in the northern constellation of the Cat (Lynx). NGC 2683 is seen nearly edge-on in this cosmic vista combining data and images from the ground-based Subaru telescope and the space-based Hubble Space Telescope. More distant galaxies are seen scattered in the background. Blended light from a large population of old yellowish stars forms the remarkably bright galactic core. Starlight silhouettes the dust lanes along winding spiral arms, dotted with the telltale blue glow of young star clusters in this galaxy's star forming regions.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2014 January 28 - Spiral Galaxy M83: The Southern Pinwheel
Explanation: M83 is one of the closest and brightest spiral galaxies on the sky. Visible with binoculars in the constellation of Hydra, majestic spiral arms have prompted its nickname as the Southern Pinwheel. Although discovered 250 years ago, only much later was it appreciated that M83 was not a nearby gas cloud, but a barred spiral galaxy much like our own Milky Way Galaxy. M83, pictured above by the Hubble Space Telescope in a recently released image, is a prominent member of a group of galaxies that includes Centaurus A and NGC 5253, all of which lie about 15 million light years distant. Several bright supernova explosions have been recorded in M83. An intriguing double circumnuclear ring has been discovered at the center of of M83.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2014 January 19 - Spiral Galaxies in Collision
Explanation: Billions of years from now, only one of these two galaxies will remain. Until then, spiral galaxies NGC 2207 and IC 2163 will slowly pull each other apart, creating tides of matter, sheets of shocked gas, lanes of dark dust, bursts of star formation, and streams of cast-away stars. Astronomers predict that NGC 2207, the larger galaxy on the left, will eventually incorporate IC 2163, the smaller galaxy on the right. In the most recent encounter that about peaked 40 million years ago, the smaller galaxy is swinging around counter-clockwise, and is now slightly behind the larger galaxy. The space between stars is so vast that when galaxies collide, the stars in them usually do not collide.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 November 25 - Anemic Spiral NGC 4921 from Hubble
Explanation: How far away is spiral galaxy NGC 4921? Although presently estimated to be about 310 million light years distant, a more precise determination could be coupled with its known recession speed to help humanity better calibrate the expansion rate of the entire visible universe. Toward this goal, several images were taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in order to help identify key stellar distance markers known as Cepheid variable stars. Since NGC 4921 is a member of the Coma Cluster of Galaxies, refining its distance would also allow a better distance determination to one of the largest nearby clusters in the local universe. The magnificent spiral NGC 4921 has been informally dubbed anemic because of its low rate of star formation and low surface brightness. Visible in the above image are, from the center, a bright nucleus, a bright central bar, a prominent ring of dark dust, blue clusters of recently formed stars, several smaller companion galaxies, unrelated galaxies in the far distant universe, and unrelated stars in our Milky Way Galaxy.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 August 25 - The Colliding Spiral Galaxies of Arp 271
Explanation: What will become of these galaxies? Spiral galaxies NGC 5426 and NGC 5427 are passing dangerously close to each other, but each is likely to survive this collision. Typically when galaxies collide, a large galaxy eats a much smaller galaxy. In this case, however, the two galaxies are quite similar, each being a sprawling spiral with expansive arms and a compact core. As the galaxies advance over the next tens of millions of years, their component stars are unlikely to collide, although new stars will form in the bunching of gas caused by gravitational tides. Close inspection of the above image taken by the 8-meter Gemini-South Telescope in Chile shows a bridge of material momentarily connecting the two giants. Known collectively as Arp 271, the interacting pair spans about 130,000 light years and lies about 90 million light-years away toward the constellation of Virgo. Recent predictions hold that our Milky Way Galaxy will undergo a similar collision with the neighboring Andromeda Galaxy in a few billion years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 August 11 - M74: The Perfect Spiral
Explanation: If not perfect, then this spiral galaxy is at least one of the most photogenic. An island universe of about 100 billion stars, 32 million light-years away toward the constellation Pisces, M74 presents a gorgeous face-on view. Classified as an Sc galaxy, the grand design of M74's graceful spiral arms are traced by bright blue star clusters and dark cosmic dust lanes. Constructed from image data recorded in 2003 and 2005, this sharp composite is from the Hubble Space Telescope's Advanced Camera for Surveys. Spanning about 30,000 light-years across the face of M74, it includes exposures recording emission from hydrogen atoms, highlighting the reddish glow of the galaxy's large star-forming regions. Recently, many astronomers are tracking a bright supernova that has been seen in M74.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 July 6 - NGC 6384: Spiral Beyond the Stars
Explanation: The universe is filled with galaxies. But to see them astronomers must look out beyond the stars of our own galaxy, the Milky Way. This colorful Hubble Space Telescopic portrait features spiral galaxy NGC 6384, about 80 million light-years away in the direction of the constellation Ophiuchus. At that distance, NGC 6384 spans an estimated 150,000 light-years, while the Hubble close-up of the galaxy's central region is about 70,000 light-years wide. The sharp image shows details in the distant galaxy's blue star clusters and dust lanes along magnificent spiral arms, and a bright core dominated by yellowish starlight. Still, the individual stars seen in the picture are all in the relatively close foreground, well within our own galaxy. The brighter Milky Way stars show noticeable crosses, or diffraction spikes, caused by the telescope itself.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 May 30 - One Armed Spiral Galaxy NGC 4725
Explanation: While most spiral galaxies, including our own Milky Way, have two or more spiral arms, NGC 4725 has only one. In this sharp color composite image, the solo spira mirabilis seems to wind from a prominent ring of bluish, newborn star clusters and red tinted star forming regions. The odd galaxy also sports obscuring dust lanes a yellowish central bar structure composed of an older population of stars. NGC 4725 is over 100 thousand light-years across and lies 41 million light-years away in the well-groomed constellation Coma Berenices. Computer simulations of the formation of single spiral arms suggest that they can be either leading or trailing arms with respect to a galaxy's overall rotation. Also included in the frame, a more traditional looking spiral appears as a smaller background galaxy.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 April 16 - Grand Spiral Galaxy M81 and Arp's Loop
Explanation: One of the brightest galaxies in planet Earth's sky is similar in size to our Milky Way Galaxy: big, beautiful M81. This grand spiral galaxy lies 11.8 million light-years away toward the northern constellation of the Great Bear (Ursa Major). The deep image of the region reveals details in the bright yellow core, but at the same time follows fainter features along the galaxy's gorgeous blue spiral arms and sweeping dust lanes. It also follows the expansive, arcing feature, known as Arp's loop, that seems to rise from the galaxy's disk at the upper right. Studied in the 1960s, Arp's loop has been thought to be a tidal tail, material pulled out of M81 by gravitational interaction with its large neighboring galaxy M82. But a subsequent investigation demonstrates that at least some of Arp's loop likely lies within our own galaxy. The loop's colors in visible and infrared light match the colors of pervasive clouds of dust, relatively unexplored galactic cirrus only a few hundred light-years above the plane of the Milky Way. Along with the Milky Way's stars, the dust clouds lie in the foreground of this remarkable view. M81's dwarf companion galaxy, Holmberg IX, can be seen just above the large spiral. On the sky, this image spans about 0.5 degrees, about the size of the Full Moon.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 January 23 - Nearby Spiral Galaxy NGC 4945
Explanation: Large spiral galaxy NGC 4945 is seen edge-on near the center of this cosmic galaxy portrait. In fact, NGC 4945 is almost the size of our own Milky Way Galaxy. Its own dusty disk, young blue star clusters, and pink star forming regions standout in the sharp, colorful telescopic image. About 13 million light-years distant toward the expansive southern constellation Centaurus, NGC 4945 is only about six times farther away than Andromeda, the nearest large spiral galaxy to the Milky Way. Though the galaxy's central region is largely hidden from view for optical telescopes, X-ray and infrared observations indicate significant high energy emission and star formation in the core of NGC 4945. Its obscured but active nucleus qualifies the gorgeous island universe as a Seyfert galaxy and likely home to a central supermassive black hole.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 January 16 - NGC 1309: Spiral Galaxy and Friends
Explanation: A gorgeous spiral galaxy some 100 million light-years distant, NGC 1309 lies on the banks of the constellation of the River (Eridanus). NGC 1309 spans about 30,000 light-years, making it about one third the size of our larger Milky Way galaxy. Bluish clusters of young stars and dust lanes are seen to trace out NGC 1309's spiral arms as they wind around an older yellowish star population at its core. Not just another pretty face-on spiral galaxy, observations of NGC 1309's recent supernova and Cepheid variable stars contribute to the calibration of the expansion of the Universe. Still, after you get over this beautiful galaxy's grand design, check out the array of more distant background galaxies also recorded in this sharp, reprocessed, Hubble Space Telescope view.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2013 January 8 - Grand Spiral Galaxy NGC 7424
Explanation: The grand, winding arms are almost mesmerizing in this face-on view of NGC 7424, a spiral galaxy with a prominent central bar. About 40 million light-years distant in the headlong constellation Grus, this island universe is also about 100,000 light-years across making it remarkably similar to our own Milky Way. Following along the winding arms, many bright clusters of massive young stars can be found. The star clusters themselves are several hundred light-years in diameter. And while massive stars are born in the arms of NGC 7424, they also die there. Notably, this galaxy was home to a powerful stellar explosion, supernova SN 2001ig, which faded well before the above image was recorded.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 November 24 - NGC 1365: Majestic Spiral with Supernova
Explanation: Barred spiral galaxy NGC 1365 is truly a majestic island universe some 200,000 light-years across. Located a mere 60 million light-years away toward the chemical constellation Fornax, NGC 1365 is a dominant member of the well-studied Fornax galaxy cluster. This sharp color image shows intense star forming regions at the ends of the bar and along the spiral arms, and details of dust lanes cutting across the galaxy's bright core. At the core lies a supermassive black hole. Astronomers think NGC 1365's prominent bar plays a crucial role in the galaxy's evolution, drawing gas and dust into a star-forming maelstrom and ultimately feeding material into the central black hole. Discovered on October 27, the position of a bright supernova is indicated in NGC 1365. Cataloged as SN2012fr, the type Ia supernova is the explosion of a white dwarf star.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 October 16 - A Spiral Nebula Surrounding Star R Sculptoris
Explanation: What's happening around that star? An unusual spiral structure has been discovered around the Milky Way star R Sculptoris, a red giant star located about 1,500 light years away toward the constellation of the Sculptor (Sculptoris). The star was observed with the new Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), the most powerful telescopic array observing near millimeter wavelengths, that part of the spectrum situated well beyond red light but before microwaves and radio waves. Data from ALMA observations was used to create a 3D visualization of the gas and dust immediately surrounding the star. A digital slice through this data showed the unexpected spiral structure. Although unusual, a similar spiral pattern was discovered in visible light recently around LL Pegasi. Upon analyzing the data, a hypothesis was drawn that the red giant star in R Sculptoris might be puffing gas toward an unseen binary companion star. The dynamics of this system might be particularly insightful because it may be giving clues as to how giant stars evolve toward the end of their lives -- and so release some constituent elements back to the interstellar medium so that new stars may form.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 September 14 - Elliptical M60, Spiral NGC 4647
Explanation: Giant elliptical galaxy M60 and spiral galaxy NGC 4647 do look like an odd couple in this sharp cosmic portrait from the Hubble Space Telescope. But they are found in a region of space where galaxies tend to gather, on the eastern side of the nearby Virgo Galaxy Cluster. About 54 million light-years distant, bright M60's simpler egg-like shape is created by its randomly swarming older stars, while NGC 4647's young blue stars, gas and dust are organized into winding arms rotating in a flattened disk. Spiral NGC 4647 is estimated to be more distant than M60, some 63 million light-years away. Also known as Arp 116, the pair of galaxies may be on the verge of a significant gravitational encounter, though. M60 (aka NGC 4649) is about 120,000 light-years across. The smaller NGC 4647 spans around 90,000 light-years, about the size of our own Milky Way.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 August 17 - Spiral Galaxy NGC 5033
Explanation: Magnificent island universe NGC 5033 lies some 40 million light-years away in the well-trained northern constellation Canes Venatici. This telescopic portrait reveals striking details of dust lanes winding near the galaxy's bright core and majestic but relatively faint spiral arms. Speckled with pink star forming regions and massive blue star clusters, the arms span over 100,000 light-years, similar in size to our own spiral Milky Way. A well-studied example of the class of Seyfert active galaxies, NGC 5033 has a core that is very bright and variable. The emission is likely powered by a supermassive black hole. The bright nucleus and rotational center of the galaxy also seem to be slightly offset, suggesting NGC 5033 is the result of an ancient galaxy merger.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 May 13 - Spiral Galaxy NGC 1672 from Hubble
Explanation: Many spiral galaxies have bars across their centers. Even our own Milky Way Galaxy is thought to have a modest central bar. Prominently barred spiral galaxy NGC 1672, pictured above, was captured in spectacular detail in image taken by the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope. Visible are dark filamentary dust lanes, young clusters of bright blue stars, red emission nebulas of glowing hydrogen gas, a long bright bar of stars across the center, and a bright active nucleus that likely houses a supermassive black hole. Light takes about 60 million years to reach us from NGC 1672, which spans about 75,000 light years across. NGC 1672, which appears toward the constellation of the Dolphinfish (Dorado), is being studied to find out how a spiral bar contributes to star formation in a galaxy's central regions.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 March 25 - Barred Spiral Galaxy NGC 1300
Explanation: Big, beautiful, barred spiral galaxy NGC 1300 lies some 70 million light-years away on the banks of the constellation Eridanus. This Hubble Space Telescope composite view of the gorgeous island universe is one of the largest Hubble images ever made of a complete galaxy. NGC 1300 spans over 100,000 light-years and the Hubble image reveals striking details of the galaxy's dominant central bar and majestic spiral arms. In fact, on close inspection the nucleus of this classic barred spiral itself shows a remarkable region of spiral structure about 3,000 light-years across. Unlike other spiral galaxies, including our own Milky Way, NGC 1300 is not presently known to have a massive central black hole.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 March 17 - NGC 2683: Edge-On Spiral Galaxy
Explanation: This elegant island universe is cataloged as NGC 2683. It lies a mere 16 million light-years distant toward the northern constellation Lynx. A spiral galaxy comparable to our own Milky Way, NGC 2683 is seen nearly edge-on in the cosmic vista. Blended light from a large population of old, yellowish stars forms the remarkably bright galactic core. Their starlight silhouettes the dust lanes along winding spiral arms, dotted with NGC 2683's young blue star clusters. The sharp image was recorded through the lens of a refracting telescope that shows brighter foreground Milky Way stars as colorful and round, lacking diffraction spikes characteristic of images from reflecting telescopes with internal supports. The many more distant galaxies scattered through the background appear as fuzzy, extended sources.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 March 4 - Warped Spiral Galaxy ESO 510 13
Explanation: How did spiral galaxy ESO 510-13 get bent out of shape? The disks of many spirals are thin and flat, but not solid. Spiral disks are loose conglomerations of billions of stars and diffuse gas all gravitationally orbiting a galaxy center. A flat disk is thought to be created by sticky collisions of large gas clouds early in the galaxy's formation. Warped disks are not uncommon, though, and even our own Milky Way Galaxy is thought to have a small warp. The causes of spiral warps are still being investigated, but some warps are thought to result from interactions or even collisions between galaxies. ESO 510-13, pictured above digitally sharpened, is about 150 million light years away and about 100,000 light years across.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 February 20 - Barred Spiral Galaxy NGC 1073
Explanation: Many spiral galaxies have bars across their centers. Even our own Milky Way Galaxy is thought to have a modest central bar. Prominently barred spiral galaxy NGC 1073, pictured above, was captured in spectacular detail in this recently released image taken by the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope. Visible are dark filamentary dust lanes, young clusters of bright blue stars, red emission nebulas of glowing hydrogen gas, a long bright bar of stars across the center, and a bright active nucleus that likely houses a supermassive black hole. Light takes about 55 million years to reach us from NGC 1073, which spans about 80,000 light years across. NGC 1073 can be seen with a moderately-sized telescope toward the constellation of the Sea Monster (Cetus), Fortuitously, the above image not only caught the X-ray bright star system IXO 5, visible on the upper left and likely internal to the barred spiral, but three quasars far in the distance.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2012 January 7 - Grand Spiral Galaxy NGC 1232
Explanation: Galaxies are fascinating not only for what is visible, but for what is invisible. Grand spiral galaxy NGC 1232, captured in detail by one of the new Very Large Telescopes, is a good example. The visible is dominated by millions of bright stars and dark dust, caught up in a gravitational swirl of spiral arms revolving about the center. Open clusters containing bright blue stars can be seen sprinkled along these spiral arms, while dark lanes of dense interstellar dust can be seen sprinkled between them. Less visible, but detectable, are billions of dim normal stars and vast tracts of interstellar gas, together wielding such high mass that they dominate the dynamics of the inner galaxy. Invisible are even greater amounts of matter in a form we don't yet know - pervasive dark matter needed to explain the motions of the visible in the outer galaxy.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2011 October 29 - Spiral Galaxy NGC 3370 from Hubble
Explanation: Is this what our own Milky Way Galaxy looks like from far away? Similar in size and grand design to our home Galaxy (although without the central bar), spiral galaxy NGC 3370 lies about 100 million light-years away toward the constellation of the Lion (Leo). Recorded above in exquisite detail by the Hubble Space Telescope's Advanced Camera for Surveys, the big, beautiful face-on spiral is not only photogenic, but has proven sharp enough to study individual stars known as Cepheids. These pulsating stars have been used to accurately determine NGC 3370's distance. NGC 3370 was chosen for this study because in 1994 the spiral galaxy was also home to a well studied stellar explosion -- a Type Ia supernova. Combining the known distance to this standard candle supernova, based on the Cepheid measurements, with observations of supernovas at even greater distances, has helped to reveal the size and expansion rate of the entire Universe itself.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2011 April 6 - M74: The Perfect Spiral
Explanation: If not perfect, then this spiral galaxy is at least one of the most photogenic. An island universe of about 100 billion stars, 32 million light-years away toward the constellation Pisces, M74 presents a gorgeous face-on view. Classified as an Sc galaxy, the grand design of M74's graceful spiral arms are traced by bright blue star clusters and dark cosmic dust lanes. The above image covers half the width of the full Moon and was obtained using 19 hours of exposure on the 1.23-meter telescope at Calar Alto Observatory in the Sierra de Los Filabres mountain range in Spain. Spanning about 30,000 light-years across the face of M74, it includes exposures recording emission from hydrogen atoms, highlighting the reddish glow of the galaxy's large star-forming regions.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2011 March 22 - NGC 6384: Spiral Beyond the Stars
Explanation: The universe is filled with galaxies. But to see them astronomers must look out beyond the stars of our galaxy, the Milky Way. For example, consider this colorful telescopic view of spiral galaxy NGC 6384, about 80 million light-years away in the direction of the constellation Ophiuchus. At that distance, NGC 6384 spans an estimated 150,000 light-years, but this close-up of the galaxy's central region is about 70,000 light-years wide. The sharp image shows details in the distant galaxy's blue spiral arms and yellowish core. Still, the individual stars seen in the picture are all in the close foreground, well within our own galaxy. The brighter Milky Way stars show noticeable crosses, or diffraction spikes, caused by the telescope itself.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2011 February 19 - Spiral Galaxy NGC 2841 Close Up
Explanation: A mere 46 million light-years distant, spiral galaxy NGC 2841 can be found in the northern constellation of Ursa Major. This sharp view of the gorgeous island universe shows off a striking yellow nucleus and galactic disk. Dust lanes, small, pink star-forming regions, and young blue star clusters are embedded in the patchy, tightly wound spiral arms. In contrast, many other spirals exhibit grand, sweeping arms with large star-forming regions. NGC 2841 has a diameter of over 150,000 light-years, even larger than our own Milky Way, but this close-up Hubble image spans about 34,000 light-years along the galaxy's inner region. X-ray images suggest that resulting winds and stellar explosions create plumes of hot gas extending into a halo around NGC 2841.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 December 4 - Sunset at the Spiral Jetty
Explanation: In dwindling twilight at an August day's end, these broad dark bands appeared in the sky for a moment, seen from Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty on the eastern shore of Utah's Great Salt Lake. Outlined by rays of sunlight known as crepuscular rays, they are actually shadows cast by clouds near the distant western horizon, the setting Sun having disappeared from direct view behind them. The cloud shadows are parallel, but seem to converge in the distance because of perspective. Coiled in the salt-encrusted lake surface, Smithson's most famous earthwork provides a dramatic contrast to the converging lines. The Spiral Jetty was constructed in 1970, when the water level was unusually low and was completely submerged in a few years as the level rose. Now just above water again, it has spent much of its existence submerged in the briny lake.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 November 13 - Spiral Galaxy M66
Explanation: Big beautiful spiral galaxy M66 lies a mere 35 million light-years away. About 100 thousand light-years across, the gorgeous island universe is well known to astronomers as a member of the Leo Triplet of galaxies. In M66, pronounced dust lanes and young, blue star clusters sweep along spiral arms dotted with the tell-tale glow of pink star forming regions. This colorful and deep view also reveals faint extensions beyond the brighter galactic disk. Of course, the bright, spiky stars lie in the foreground, within our own Milky Way Galaxy, but many, small, distant background galaxies can be seen in the cosmic snapshot. Gravitational interactions with its neighboring galaxies have likely influenced the shape of spiral galaxy M66.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 October 11 - NGC 2683: Spiral Edge On
Explanation: Does spiral galaxy NGC 2683 have a bar across its center? Being so nearly like our own barred Milky Way Galaxy, one might guess it has. Being so nearly edge-on, however, it is hard to tell. Either way, this gorgeous island universe, cataloged as NGC 2683, lies a mere 20 million light-years distant in the northern constellation of the Cat (Lynx). NGC 2683 is seen nearly edge-on in this cosmic vista, with more distant galaxies scattered in the background. Blended light from a large population of old yellowish stars forms the remarkably bright galactic core. Starlight silhouettes the dust lanes along winding spiral arms, dotted with the telltale blue glow of young star clusters in this galaxy's star forming regions.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 September 14 - An Extraordinary Spiral from LL Pegasi
Explanation: What created the strange spiral structure on the left? No one is sure, although it is likely related to a star in a binary star system entering the planetary nebula phase, when its outer atmosphere is ejected. The huge spiral spans about a third of a light year across and, winding four or five complete turns, has a regularity that is without precedent. Given the expansion rate of the spiral gas, a new layer must appear about every 800 years, a close match to the time it takes for the two stars to orbit each other. The star system that created it is most commonly known as LL Pegasi, but also AFGL 3068. The unusual structure itself has been cataloged as IRAS 23166+1655. The above image was taken in near-infrared light by the Hubble Space Telescope. Why the spiral glows is itself a mystery, with a leading hypothesis being illumination by light reflected from nearby stars.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 September 8 - NGC 4911: Spiral Diving into a Dense Cluster
Explanation: Why are there faint rings around this spiral galaxy? Possibly because the galaxy, NGC 4911, is being pulled at by its neighbors as it falls into the enormous Coma Cluster of Galaxies. If NGC 4911 ends up like most of the galaxies in the central Coma cluster, it will become a yellowish elliptical galaxy, losing not only its outer layers, but dust, gas, and its cadre of surrounding satellite galaxies as well. Currently, however, this process is just beginning. Visible in the above deep image from the Hubble Space Telescope are NGC 4911's bright nucleus, distorted spiral arms laced with dark dust, clusters of recently formed stars, unusual faint outer rings, dwarf companion galaxies, and even faint globular clusters of stars. Far in the distance many unassociated galaxies from the early universe are visible, some even through NGC 4911 itself. The Coma Cluster contains over 1,000 galaxies making it among the most massive objects known. NGC 4911 can be found to the lower left of the great cluster's center.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 May 3 - Spiral Galaxy NGC 3190 Almost Sideways
Explanation: Some spiral galaxies are seen almost sideways. NGC 3190, one such galaxy, is the largest member of the Hickson 44 Group, one of the nearer groups of galaxies to our own Local Group of galaxies. Pictured above, finely textured dust lanes surround the brightly glowing center of this picturesque spiral. Gravitational tidal interactions with other members of its group have likely caused the spiral arms of NGC 3190 to appear asymmetric around the center, while the galactic disk also appears warped. NGC 3190 spans about 75,000 light years across and is visible with a small telescope toward the constellation of the Lion (Leo).

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 April 13 - Unusual Spiral Galaxy M66 from Hubble
Explanation: Why isn't spiral galaxy M66 symmetric? Usually density waves of gas, dust, and newly formed stars circle a spiral galaxy's center and create a nearly symmetric galaxy. The differences between M66's spiral arms and the apparent displacement of its nucleus are all likely caused by previous close interactions and the tidal gravitational pulls of nearby galaxy neighbors M65 and NGC 3628. Spiral galaxy M66, pictured above, spans about 100,000 light years, lies about 35 million light years distant, and is the largest galaxy in a group known as the Leo Triplet. Like many spiral galaxies, the long and intricate dust lanes of M66 are seen intertwined with the bright stars and nebulas that light up the spiral arms.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2010 February 25 - Edge-on Spiral Galaxy NGC 891
Explanation: This beautiful cosmic portrait features NGC 891. The spiral galaxy spans about 100 thousand light-years and is seen almost exactly edge-on from our perspective. In fact, about 30 million light-years distant in the constellation Andromeda, NGC 891 looks a lot like our Milky Way. At first glance, it has a flat, thin, galactic disk and a central bulge cut along the middle by regions of dark obscuring dust. Also apparent in NGC 891's edge-on presentation are filaments of dust that extend hundreds of light-years above and below the center line. The dust has likely been blown out of the disk by supernova explosions or intense star formation activity. Faint neighboring galaxies can also been seen near this galaxy's disk.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2009 December 28 - Barred Spiral Galaxy NGC 6217
Explanation: Many spiral galaxies have bars across their centers. Even our own Milky Way Galaxy is thought to have a modest central bar. Prominently barred spiral galaxy NGC 6217, pictured above, was captured in spectacular detail in this recently released image taken by the newly repaired Advanced Camera for Surveys on the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope. Visible are dark filamentary dust lanes, young clusters of bright blue stars, red emission nebulas of glowing hydrogen gas, a long bright bar of stars across the center, and a bright active nucleus that likely houses a supermassive black hole. Light takes about 60 million years to reach us from NGC 6217, which spans about 30,000 light years across and can be found toward the constellation of the Little Bear (Ursa Minor).

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2009 July 27 - NGC 1097: Spiral Galaxy with a Central Eye
Explanation: What's happening at the center of spiral galaxy NGC 1097? No one is sure, but it likely involves a supermassive black hole. Matter falling in from a bar of stars and gas across the center is likely being heated by an extremely energetic region surrounding the central black hole. From afar, the entire central region appears in the above false-color infrared image as a mysterious eye. Near the left edge and seen in blue, a smaller companion galaxy is wrapped in the spectacular spiral arms of the large spiral, lit in pink by glowing dust. Currently about 40 thousand light-years from the larger galaxy's center, the gravity of the companion galaxy appears to be reshaping the larger galaxy as it is slowly being destroyed itself. NGC 1097 is located about 50 million light years away toward the constellation of the furnace (Fornax).

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2009 June 6 - One Armed Spiral Galaxy NGC 4725
Explanation: While most spiral galaxies, including our own Milky Way, have two or more spiral arms, NGC 4725 seems to have only one. In this sharp color image, the solo spira mirabilis is tightly wound, traced by bluish, newborn star clusters. The odd galaxy also sports obscuring dust lanes, a prominent ring, and a yellowish central bar structure composed of an older population of stars. NGC 4725 is over 100 thousand light-years across and lies 41 million light-years away in the well-groomed constellation Coma Berenices. Computer simulations of the formation of single spiral arms suggest that they can be either leading or trailing arms with respect to a galaxy's overall rotation.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2009 April 7 The Colliding Spiral Galaxies of Arp 274
Explanation: Two galaxies are squaring off in Virgo and here are the latest pictures. When two galaxies collide, the stars that compose them usually do not. This is because galaxies are mostly empty space and, however bright, stars only take up only a small fraction of that space. But during the collision, one galaxy can rip the other apart gravitationally, and dust and gas common to both galaxies does collide. If the two galaxies merge, black holes that likely resided in each galaxy center may eventually merge. Because the distances are so large, the whole thing takes place in slow motion -- over hundreds of millions of years. Besides the two large spiral galaxies, a smaller third galaxy is visible on the far left of the above image of Arp 274, also known as NGC 5679. Arp 274 spans about 200,000 light years across and lies about 400 million light years away toward the constellation of Virgo.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2008 October 22 - Beautiful Spiral NGC 7331
Explanation: A favorite target for astronomers, big, beautiful spiral galaxy NGC 7331 is one of the brighter galaxies not found in Charles Messier's famous 18th century catalog. About 50 million light-years distant in the northern constellation Pegasus and similar in size to our own Milky Way Galaxy, NGC 7331 is often imaged as the foreground of a visual grouping that includes an intriguing assortment of background galaxies some ten times farther away. This striking image of the well-studied island universe and environs was produced using data from the Calar Alto Observatory in southern Spain. Perhaps the deepest view of the region yet, the image data were processed to reveal sharp details of all sizes in both bright and faint areas. A color balance was chosen so that white would be the result of averaging colors over the entire galaxy. The result shows off a wealth of remarkable features in NGC 7331 and its surroundings.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2008 October 12 - Spiral Galaxy NGC 3370 from Hubble
Explanation: Is this what our own Milky Way Galaxy looks like from far away? Similar in size and grand design to our home Galaxy (although without the central bar), spiral galaxy NGC 3370 lies about 100 million light-years away toward the constellation of the Lion (Leo). Recorded above in exquisite detail by the Hubble Space Telescope's Advanced Camera for Surveys, the big, beautiful face-on spiral is not only photogenic, but has proven sharp enough to study individual stars known as Cepheids. These pulsating stars have been used to accurately determine NGC 3370's distance. NGC 3370 was chosen for this study because in 1994 the spiral galaxy was also home to a well studied stellar explosion -- a Type Ia supernova. Combining the known distance to this standard candle supernova, based on the Cepheid measurements, with observations of supernovas at even greater distances, has helped to reveal the size and expansion rate of the entire Universe itself.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2008 August 24 - Grand Spiral Galaxy NGC 1232
Explanation: Galaxies are fascinating not only for what is visible, but for what is invisible. Grand spiral galaxy NGC 1232, captured in detail by one of the new Very Large Telescopes, is a good example. The visible is dominated by millions of bright stars and dark dust, caught up in a gravitational swirl of spiral arms revolving about the center. Open clusters containing bright blue stars can be seen sprinkled along these spiral arms, while dark lanes of dense interstellar dust can be seen sprinkled between them. Less visible, but detectable, are billions of dim normal stars and vast tracts of interstellar gas, together wielding such high mass that they dominate the dynamics of the inner galaxy. Invisible are even greater amounts of matter in a form we don't yet know - pervasive dark matter needed to explain the motions of the visible in the outer galaxy. What's out there?

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2008 July 21 - The Colliding Spiral Galaxies of Arp 271
Explanation: What will become of these galaxies? Spiral galaxies NGC 5426 and NGC 5427 are passing dangerously close to each other, but each is likely to survive this collision. Most frequently when galaxies collide, a large galaxy eats a much smaller galaxy. In this case, however, the two galaxies are quite similar, each being a sprawling spiral with expansive arms and a compact core. As the galaxies advance over the next tens of millions of years, their component stars are unlikely to collide, although new stars will form in the bunching of gas caused by gravitational tides. Close inspection of the above image taken by the 8-meter Gemini-South Telescope in Chile shows a bridge of material momentarily connecting the two giants. Known collectively as Arp 271, the interacting pair spans about 130,000 light years and lies about 90 million light-years away toward the constellation of Virgo. Quite possibly, our Milky Way Galaxy will undergo a similar collision with the neighboring Andromeda Galaxy in about five billion years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2008 June 22 - Barred Spiral Galaxy NGC 1300
Explanation: Big, beautiful, barred spiral galaxy NGC 1300 lies some 70 million light-years away on the banks of the constellation Eridanus. This Hubble Space Telescope composite view of the gorgeous island universe is one of the largest Hubble images ever made of a complete galaxy. NGC 1300 spans over 100,000 light-years and the Hubble image reveals striking details of the galaxy's dominant central bar and majestic spiral arms. In fact, on close inspection the nucleus of this classic barred spiral itself shows a remarkable region of spiral structure about 3,000 light-years across. Unlike other spiral galaxies, including our own Milky Way, NGC 1300 is not presently known to have a massive central black hole.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2008 June 6 - Two-Armed Spiral Milky Way
Explanation: Gazing out from within the Milky Way, our own galaxy's true structure is difficult to discern. But an ambitious survey effort with the Spitzer Space Telescope now offers convincing evidence that we live in a large galaxy distinguished by two main spiral arms (the Scutum-Centaurus and Perseus arms) emerging from the ends of a large central bar. In fact, from a vantage point that viewed our galaxy face-on, astronomers in distant galaxies would likely see the Milky Way as a two-armed barred spiral similar to this artist's illustration. Previous investigations have identified a smaller central barred structure and four spiral arms. Astronomers still place the Sun about a third of the way in from the Milky Way's outer edge, in a minor arm called the Orion Spur. To locate the Sun and identify the Milky Way's newly mapped features, just place your cursor over the image.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2008 March 29 - Spiral Galaxy NGC 2841
Explanation: Some 50 million light-years distant, spiral galaxy NGC 2841 can be found in the northern constellation of Ursa Major. This sharp view of the gorgeous island universe shows off a striking yellow nucleus and galactic disk with tightly wound spiral arms. NGC 2841 has a diameter of over 150,000 light-years, even larger than our own Milky Way Galaxy. The galaxy's dust lanes and turbulent star-forming regions are found along the spiral arms, but X-ray images suggest that resulting winds and stellar explosions create plumes of hot gas extending into a halo around NGC 2841. Of course, the prominent stars with a spiky appearance in the picture are close foreground objects within the Milky Way and not associated with NGC 2841.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2007 December 1 - M74: The Perfect Spiral
Explanation: If not perfect, then this spiral galaxy is at least one of the most photogenic. An island universe of about 100 billion stars, 32 million light-years away toward the constellation Pisces, M74 presents a gorgeous face-on view. Classified as an Sc galaxy, the grand design of M74's graceful spiral arms are traced by bright blue star clusters and dark cosmic dust lanes. Constructed from image data recorded in 2003 and 2005, this sharp composite is from the Hubble Space Telescope's Advanced Camera for Surveys. Spanning about 30,000 light-years across the face of M74, it includes exposures recording emission from hydrogen atoms, highlighting the reddish glow of the galaxy's large star-forming regions.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2007 July 24 - Spiral Galaxy M83: The Southern Pinwheel
Explanation: M83 is one of the closest and brightest spiral galaxies on the sky. Visible with binoculars in the constellation of Hydra, majestic spiral arms have prompted its nickname as the Southern Pinwheel. Although discovered 250 years ago, only much later was it appreciated that M83 was not a nearby gas cloud, but a barred spiral galaxy much like our own Milky Way Galaxy. M83, pictured above, is a prominent member of a group of galaxies that includes Centaurus A and NGC 5253, all of which lie about 15 million light years distant. Several bright supernova explosions have been recorded in M83. An intriguing double circumnuclear ring has been discovered at the center of M83.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2007 May 15 - Bright Spiral Galaxy M81 in Ultraviolet from Galex
Explanation: Where are the hot stars in M81, one of the closest major spiral galaxies? To help find out, astronomers took a deep image in ultraviolet light of the sprawling spiral with the Earth-orbiting Galex telescope. Hot stars emit more ultraviolet than cool stars, and are frequently associated with young open clusters of stars and energetic star forming regions. Magnificent spiral galaxy M81, slightly smaller in size to our own Milky Way Galaxy, shows off its young stars in its winding spiral arms in the above image. Less than 100 million years old, the young stars are blue in the above false-color Galex image and seen to be well separated from the older yellowish stars of the galactic core. Visible above M81 is a satellite galaxy dubbed Holmberg IX. Studying the unexpectedly bright ultraviolet glow of this small irregular galaxy may help astronomers understand how the many satellites of our own Milky Way Galaxy developed. M81, visible through a small telescope, spans about 70,000 light years and lies about 12 million light years away toward the constellation of the Great Bear (Ursa Major).

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2007 April 18 - Barred Spiral Galaxy NGC 1672
Explanation: Many spiral galaxies have bars across their centers. Even our own Milky Way Galaxy is thought to have a modest central bar. Prominently barred spiral galaxy NGC 1672, pictured above, was captured in spectacular detail in this recently released image taken by the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope. Visible are dark filamentary dust lanes, young clusters of bright blue stars, red emission nebulas of glowing hydrogen gas, a long bright bar of stars across the center, and a bright active nucleus that likely houses a supermassive black hole. Light takes about 60 million years to reach us from NGC 1672, which spans about 75,000 light years across. NGC 1672, which appears toward the constellation of the Swordfish (Dorado), is being studied to find out how a spiral bar contributes to star formation in a galaxy's central regions.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2007 March 14 - Barred Spiral Galaxy M95
Explanation: Why do some spiral galaxies have a ring around the center? First and foremost, M95 is one of the closer examples of a big and beautiful barred spiral galaxy. Visible in the above recent image from the CFHT telescope in Hawaii, USA, are sprawling spiral arms delineate by open clusters of bright blue stars, lanes of dark dust, the diffuse glow of billions of faint stars, and a short bar across the galaxy center. What intrigues many astronomers, however, is the circumnuclear ring around the galaxy center visible just outside the central bar. Recent images by the Chandra X-ray Observatory have shown that X-ray light surrounding the ring is likely emission from recent supernovas. Although the long term stability of the ring remains a topic of research, recent observations indicate its present brightness is at least enhanced by transient bursts of star formation. M95, also known as NGC 3351, spans about 50,000 light-years and can be seen with a small telescope toward the constellation of the Lion (Leo).

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2006 September 14 - M33: Spiral Galaxy in Triangulum
Explanation: The small, northern constellation Triangulum harbors this magnificent face-on spiral galaxy, M33. Its popular names include the Pinwheel Galaxy or just the Triangulum Galaxy. M33 is over 50,000 light-years in diameter, third largest in the Local Group of galaxies after the Andromeda Galaxy (M31), and our own Milky Way. About 3 million light-years from the Milky Way, M33 is itself thought to be a satellite of the Andromeda Galaxy and astronomers in these two galaxies would likely have spectacular views of each other's grand spiral star systems. As for the view from planet Earth, this detailed, wide field image nicely shows off M33's blue star clusters and pinkish star forming regions which trace the galaxy's loosely wound spiral arms. In fact, the cavernous NGC 604 is the brightest star forming region, seen here at about the 1 o'clock position from the galaxy center. Like M31, M33's population of well-measured variable stars have helped make this nearby spiral a cosmic yardstick for establishing the distance scale of the Universe.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2006 September 2 - Dusty Spiral M66
Explanation: When morning twilight came to the Paranal Observatory in Chile, astronomers Mark Neeser and Peter Barthel interrupted their search for faint quasars, billions of light-years away. And just for a moment, they used Very Large Telescopes at the European Southern Observatory to appreciate the beauty of the nearby Universe. One result was this stunning view of beautiful spiral galaxy M66, a mere 35 million light-years away. About 100 thousand light-years across with striking dust lanes and bright star clusters along sweeping spiral arms, M66 is well known to astronomers as a member of the Leo Triplet of galaxies. Gravitational interactions with its neighborhood galaxies have likely influenced the shape of dusty spiral M66.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2006 August 27 - Barred Spiral Galaxy NGC 1300
Explanation: Big, beautiful, barred spiral galaxy NGC 1300 lies some 70 million light-years away on the banks of the constellation Eridanus. This Hubble Space Telescope composite view of the gorgeous island universe is one of the largest Hubble images ever made of a complete galaxy. NGC 1300 spans over 100,000 light-years and the Hubble image reveals striking details of the galaxy's dominant central bar and majestic spiral arms. In fact, on close inspection the nucleus of this classic barred spiral itself shows a remarkable region of spiral structure about 3,000 light-years across. Unlike other spiral galaxies, including our own Milky Way, NGC 1300 is not presently known to have a massive central black hole.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2006 July 5 - Spiral Galaxy NGC 2403 from Subaru
Explanation: Sprawling spiral arms dotted with bright red emission nebulas highlight this new and detailed image of nearby spiral galaxy NGC 2403. Also visible in the photogenic spiral galaxy are blue open clusters, dark dust lanes, and a bright but relatively small central nucleus. NGC 2403 is located just beyond the Local Group of Galaxies, at a relatively close 10 million light years away toward the constellation of the Giraffe (Camelopardalis). NGC 2403 has a designated Hubble type of Sc. In 2004, NGC 2403 was home to one of the brightest supernovas of modern times. The above image, the highest resolution complete image of NGC 2403 ever completed, was taken by the Japan's 8.3-meter Subaru telescope located on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, USA.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2006 March 7 - A Nearby Supernova in Spiral Galaxy M100
Explanation: One of the nearer supernovas of recent years was discovered last month in the bright nearby galaxy M100. The supernova, dubbed SN 2006X, is still near its maximum brightness and visible with a telescope toward the constellation of Berenice's Hair (Coma Berenices) The supernova, pictured above, has been identified as Type Ia indicating that a white dwarf star in the picturesque spiral galaxy has gone near its Chandrasekhar limit and exploded. Although hundreds of supernovas are now discovered each year by automated searches, nearby supernova are rare and important because they frequently become bright enough to be studied by many telescopes and are near enough for their immediate surroundings to be spatially resolved. Supernova 2006X's host galaxy M100 resides in the Virgo Cluster of Galaxies located about 50 million light years from Earth.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2005 October 1 - NGC 613: Spiral of Dust and Stars
Explanation: When morning twilight came to the Paranal Observatory in Chile, astronomers Mark Neeser and Peter Barthel interrupted their search for faint quasars, billions of light-years away. And just for a moment, they used Very Large Telescopes at the European Southern Observatory to appreciate the beauty of the nearby Universe. One result was this stunning view of beautiful barred spiral galaxy NGC 613, a mere 65 million light-years away in the southern constellation Sculptor. Over 100 thousand light-years across, NGC 613 seems to have more than its fair share of spiral arms laced with cosmic dust clouds and bright star forming regions near the ends of a dominant central bar. Radio emission indicates the presence of a massive black hole at the center of NGC 613.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2005 September 1 - One Armed Spiral Galaxy NGC 4725
Explanation: While most spiral galaxies, including our own Milky Way, have two or more spiral arms, peculiar galaxy NGC 4725 has only one. In this false-color Spitzer Space Telescope infrared image, the galaxy's solo spira mirabilis is seen in red, highlighting the emission from dust clouds warmed by newborn stars. The blue color is light from NGC 4725's population of old stars. Also sporting a prominent ring and a central bar, this galaxy is over 100 thousand light-years across and lies 41 million light-years away in the well-groomed constellation Coma Berenices. Computer simulations of the formation of single spiral arms suggest that they can be either leading or trailing arms with respect to a galaxy's overall rotation.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2005 August 25 - Barred Spiral Milky Way
Explanation: A recent survey of stars conducted with the Spitzer Space Telescope is convincing astronomers that our Milky Way Galaxy is not just your ordinary spiral galaxy anymore. Looking out from within the Galaxy's disk, the true structure of the Milky Way is difficult to discern. However, the penetrating infrared census of about 30 million stars indicates that the Galaxy is distinguished by a very large central bar some 27,000 light-years long. In fact, from a vantage point that viewed our galaxy face-on, astronomers in distant galaxies would likely see a striking barred spiral galaxy suggested in this artist's illustration. While previous investigations have identified a small central barred structure, the new results indicate that the Milky Way's large bar would make about a 45 degree angle with a line joining the Sun and the Galaxy's center. DON'T PANIC ... astronomers still place the Sun beyond the central bar region, about a third of the way in from the Milky Way's outer edge.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2005 June 1 - White Dwarf Star Spiral
Explanation: About 1,600 light-years away, in a binary star system fondly known as J0806, two dense white dwarf stars orbit each other once every 321 seconds. Interpreting x-ray data from the Chandra Observatory astronomers argue that the stars' already impressively short orbital period is steadily getting shorter as the stars spiral closer together. Even though they are separated by about 80,000 kilometers (the Earth-Moon distance is 400,000 kilometers) the two stars are therefore destined to merge. Depicted in this artist's vision, the death spiral of the remarkable J0806 system is a consequence of Einstein's theory of General Relativity that predicts the white dwarf stars will lose their orbital energy by generating gravity waves. In fact, J0806 could be one of the brightest sources of gravitational waves in our galaxy, directly detectable by future space-based gravity wave instruments.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2005 January 12 - Barred Spiral Galaxy NGC 1300
Explanation: Big, beautiful, barred spiral galaxy NGC 1300 lies some 70 million light-years away on the banks of the constellation Eridanus. This Hubble Space Telescope composite view of the gorgeous island universe was released at this week's meeting of the American Astronomical Society as one of the largest Hubble images ever made of a complete galaxy. NGC 1300 spans over 100,000 light-years and the Hubble image reveals striking details of the galaxy's dominant central bar and majestic spiral arms. In fact, on close inspection the nucleus of this classic barred spiral itself shows a remarkable region of spiral structure about 3,000 light-years across. Unlike other spiral galaxies, including our own Milky Way, NGC 1300 is not presently known to have a massive central black hole.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 December 14 - Nearby Spiral M33
Explanation: Spiral galaxy M33 is a mid-sized member of our Local Group of Galaxies. M33 is also called the Triangulum Galaxy for the constellation in which it resides. About four times smaller (in radius) than our Milky Way Galaxy and the Andromeda Galaxy (M31), it is much larger than the many of the local dwarf spheroidal galaxies. M33's proximity to M31 causes it to be thought by some to be a satellite galaxy of this more massive galaxy. M33's proximity to our Milky Way Galaxy causes it to appear more than twice the angular size of the Full Moon, and be visible with a good pair of binoculars.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 November 27 - NGC 2683: Spiral Edge On
Explanation: This gorgeous island universe, cataloged as NGC 2683, lies a mere 16 million light-years distant in the northern constellation Lynx. A spiral galaxy comparable to our own Milky Way, NGC 2683 is seen nearly edge-on in this cosmic vista, with more distant galaxies scattered in the background. Blended light from a large population of old yellowish stars forms the remarkably bright galactic core. Starlight silhouettes the dust lanes along winding spiral arms, dotted with the telltale pink glow of ionized hydrogen gas from this galaxy's star forming regions.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 November 21 - Spiral Galaxies in Collision
Explanation: Billions of years from now, only one of these two galaxies will remain. Until then, spiral galaxies NGC 2207 and IC 2163 will slowly pull each other apart, creating tides of matter, sheets of shocked gas, lanes of dark dust, bursts of star formation, and streams of cast-away stars. Astronomers predict that NGC 2207, the larger galaxy on the left, will eventually incorporate IC 2163, the smaller galaxy on the right. In the most recent encounter that peaked 40 million years ago, the smaller galaxy is swinging around counter-clockwise, and is now slightly behind the larger galaxy. The space between stars is so vast that when galaxies collide, the stars in them usually do not collide.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 April 7 - Unusual Spiral Galaxy M66
Explanation: Why isn't spiral galaxy M66 symmetric? Usually density waves of gas, dust, and newly formed stars circle a spiral galaxy's center and create a nearly symmetric galaxy. The differences between M66's spiral arms and the apparent displacement of its nucleus are all likely caused by the tidal gravitational pull of nearby galaxy neighbor M65. Spiral galaxy M66, pictured above, spans about 100,000 light years, lies about 35 million light years distant, and is the largest galaxy in a group including M65 and NGC 3628 known as the Leo Triplet. Like many spiral galaxies, the long and intricate dust lanes of M66 are seen intertwined with the bright stars and nebulas that light up the spiral arms.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 February 21 - The Spiral Arms of NGC 4622
Explanation: While stirring a morning cup of coffee and thinking cosmic thoughts many astronomers would glance at this Hubble Space Telescope image of spiral galaxy NGC 4622 and assume that the galaxy was rotating counterclockwise in the picture. One hundred million light-years away in the constellation Centaurus, NGC 4622's gorgeous outer spiral arms, traced by bright bluish star clusters and dark dust lanes, should be winding up like ... well, like swirls in a cup of coffee. But a closer look at this galaxy reveals that a pronounced inner spiral arm winds in the opposite direction. So which way is this galaxy rotating? Evidence combining ground-based spectroscopy and the sharp Hubble image data surprisingly indicates that the galaxy is likely rotating clockwise in the picture, its outer spiral arms opening outward in the direction of rotation. There are further indications that a past collision with a smaller companion galaxy has contributed to NGC 4622's bizarre rotational arrangement of spiral arms, essentially unique among known large spiral galaxies.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 February 13 - NGC 613: Spiral of Dust and Stars
Explanation: When morning twilight came to the Paranal Observatory in Chile, astronomers Mark Neeser and Peter Barthel interrupted their search for faint quasars, billions of light-years away. And just for a moment, they used Very Large Telescopes at the European Southern Observatory to appreciate the beauty of the nearby Universe. One result was this stunning view of beautiful barred spiral galaxy NGC 613, a mere 65 million light-years away in the southern constellation Sculptor. Over 100 thousand light-years across, NGC 613 seems to have more than its fair share of spiral arms laced with cosmic dust clouds and bright star forming regions near the ends of a dominant central bar. Radio emission indicates the presence of a massive black hole at the center of NGC 613.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2004 January 25 - Spiral Galaxy NGC 1232
Explanation: Galaxies are fascinating not only for what is visible, but for what is invisible. Grand spiral galaxy NGC 1232, captured in detail by one of the new Very Large Telescopes, is a good example. The visible is dominated by millions of bright stars and dark dust, caught up in a gravitational swirl of spiral arms rotating about the center. Open clusters containing bright blue stars can be seen sprinkled along these spiral arms, while dark lanes of dense interstellar dust can be seen sprinkled between them. Less visible, but detectable, are billions of dim normal stars and vast tracts of interstellar gas, together wielding such high mass that they dominate the dynamics of the inner galaxy. Invisible are even greater amounts of matter in a form we don't yet know - pervasive dark matter needed to explain the motions of the visible in the outer galaxy. What's out there?

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2003 November 3 - Spiral Galaxy NGC 3982 Before Supernova
Explanation: What do stars look like just before they explode? To find out, astronomers are taking detailed images of nearby galaxies now, before any supernova is visible. Hopefully, a star in one of the hundreds of high resolution galaxy images will explode in the coming years. If so, archival images like that taken above by the Hubble Space Telescope can be inspected to find what the star looked like originally. This information is likely important for better understanding of how and why supernovas occur, as well as why some supernovas appear brighter than others. Pictured above, beautiful spiral galaxy NGC 3982 displays numerous spiral arms filled with bright stars, blue star clusters, and dark dust lanes. NGC 3982, which spans about 30,000 light years, lies about 60 million light years from Earth and can be seen with a small telescope toward the constellation of Ursa Major.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2003 September 24 - M33: Spiral Galaxy in Triangulum
Explanation: The small constellation Triangulum in the northern sky harbors this magnificent face-on spiral galaxy, M33. Its popular names include the Pinwheel Galaxy or just the Triangulum Galaxy. M33's diameter spans over 50,000 light-years, making it third largest in the Local Group of galaxies after the Andromeda Galaxy (M31), and our own Milky Way. About 3 million light-years from the Milky Way, M33 lies very close to the Andromeda Galaxy and observers in these two galaxies would likely have spectacular views of each other's grand spiral star systems. As for the view from planet Earth, this sharp 27 frame mosaic of M33 nicely shows off blue star clusters and pinkish star forming regions which trace the galaxy's loosely wound spiral arms. In fact, the cavernous NGC 604 is the brightest star forming region seen here, visible along an arm arcing above and to the right of the galaxy center. Like M31, M33's population of well-measured variable stars have helped make this nearby spiral a cosmic yardstick for establishing the distance scale of the Universe.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2003 July 26 - Spiral Galaxy NGC 7742
Explanation: This might resemble a fried egg you've had for breakfast, but it's actually much larger. In fact, ringed by blue-tinted star forming regions and faintly visible spiral arms, the yolk-yellow center of this face-on spiral galaxy, NGC 7742, is about 3,000 light-years across. About 72 million light-years away in the constellation Pegasus, NGC 7742 is known to be a Seyfert galaxy - a type of active spiral galaxy with a center or nucleus which is very bright at visible wavelengths. Across the spectrum, the tremendous brightness of Seyferts can change over periods of just days to months and galaxies like NGC 7742 are suspected of harboring massive black holes at their cores. This beautiful color picture is courtesy of the Hubble Space Telescope Heritage Project.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2003 June 7 - Warped Spiral Galaxy ESO 510-13
Explanation: How did spiral galaxy ESO 510-13 get bent out of shape? The disks of many spirals are thin and flat, but not solid. Spiral disks are loose conglomerations of billions of stars and diffuse gas all gravitationally orbiting a galaxy center. A flat disk is thought to be created by sticky collisions of large gas clouds early in the galaxy's formation. Warped disks are not uncommon, though, and even our own Milky Way Galaxy is thought to have a small warp. The causes of spiral warps are still being investigated, but some warps are thought to result from interactions or even collisions between galaxies. ESO 510-13 is about 150 million light years away and about 100,000 light years across.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2003 May 25 - Spiral Galaxy NGC 253 Almost Sideways
Explanation: NGC 253 is a normal spiral galaxy seen here almost sideways. It is the largest member of the Sculptor Group of Galaxies, the nearest group to our own Local Group of Galaxies. NGC 253, pictured above, appears visually as one of the brightest spirals on the sky, and is easily visible in southern hemisphere with a good pair of binoculars. The type Sc galaxy is about 10 million light years distant. NGC 253 is considered a starburst galaxy because of high star formation rates and dense dust clouds in its nucleus. The energetic nuclear region is seen to glow in X-ray and gamma-ray light.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2003 May 24 - M74: The Perfect Spiral
Explanation: If not perfect, then this spiral galaxy is at least one of the most photogenic. An island universe of about 100 billion stars, 30 million light-years away toward the constellation Pisces, NGC 628 or M74 presents a gorgeous face-on view to earthbound astronomers. Classified as an Sc galaxy, the grand design of M74's graceful spiral arms traced by bright blue star clusters and dark cosmic dust lanes, is similar in many respects to our own home galaxy, the Milky Way. Recorded with a 28 million pixel detector array, this impressive image celebrated first light for the Gemini Multi-Object Spectrograph (GMOS), a state-of-the-art instrument operational at the 8-meter Gemini North telescope. The Gemini North Observatory gazes into the skies above Mauna Kea, Hawaii, USA, while its twin observatory, Gemini South, operates from Cerro Pachn in central Chile.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2003 April 19 - Spiral Galaxy In Centaurus
Explanation: Centaurus, the Centaur, is one of the most striking constellations in the southern sky. The lovely Milky Way flows through this large constellation whose celestial wonders also include the closest star to the sun, Alpha Centauri, the largest globular star cluster in our galaxy, Omega Centauri, and the closest active galaxy, Centaurus A. Embraced by tightly wound spiral arms of bright blue star clusters, this gorgeous galaxy - cataloged as ESO 269-57 - also falls within Centaurus' borders. Seen behind a veil of foreground stars which lie within our own galaxy, this face-on spiral galaxy is about 150 million light-years away and 200,000 light-years across. The brighter foreground stars are marked by diffraction spikes caused by the telescope and yellow vertical stripes due to saturated digital camera pixels in the above Very Large Telescope image from the European Southern Observatory. Tantalizing wisps of more distant, faint galaxies are visible in the background.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2003 April 13 - NGC 1365: A Nearby Barred Spiral Galaxy
Explanation: Many spiral galaxies have bars across their centers. Even our own Milky Way Galaxy is thought to have a bar, but perhaps not so prominent as the one in NGC 1365, shown above. The persistence and motion of the bar imply relatively massive spiral arms. The placements of bright young blue stars and dark dust lanes also indicate a strong rotating density wave of star formation. NGC 1365 is a member of the Fornax Cluster of Galaxies. Because NGC 1365 is relatively nearby, simultaneous measurements of its speed and distance are possible, which help astronomers estimate how fast our universe is expanding.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2002 August 21 - Spiral Galaxy NGC 300
Explanation: NGC 300 is so interesting because it is so normal. An Sc-type spiral galaxy in the nearby Sculptor group of galaxies, NGC 300 shows typical flowing blue spiral arms, an expected compact nucleus, and the requisite amount of stars, star clusters, and nebulae. Therefore, studying NGC 300 should indicate how, exactly, a normal spiral galaxy works. Toward this goal, NGC 300 and the surrounding area were studied in exquisite detail, creating and combining a series of high-resolution images to create the above conglomerate picture. NGC 300 lies only 7 million light years away, spans nearly the same amount of sky as the full moon, and is visible with a small telescope toward the constellation of Sculptor.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2002 August 4 - Spiral Galaxy NGC 2997 from VLT
Explanation: NGC 2997 is a grand design spiral galaxy. Its small nucleus and sprawling spiral arms give it a type Sc designation. NGC 2997, pictured above, is speeding away from us at about 1100 kilometers per second, which would place it at about 55 million light years distant, given current estimates of the expansion rate of our universe. NGC 2997 is thought to have a mass of about 100 billion times that of our Sun, but is probably less massive than our own Milky Way galaxy. NGC 2997 is not seen face-on - it is thought tilted by about 45 degrees. NGC 2997 is particularly notable for a nucleus surrounded by a chain of hot giant clouds of ionized hydrogen.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2002 July 21 - Nearby Spiral Galaxy NGC 4945
Explanation: For such a close galaxy, NGC 4945 is easy to miss. NGC 4945 is a spiral galaxy in the Centaurus Group of galaxies, located only six times farther away than the prominent Andromeda Galaxy. The thin disk galaxy is oriented nearly edge-on, however, and shrouded in dark dust. Therefore galaxy-gazers searching the southern constellation of Centaurus need a telescope to see it. The above picture was taken with a large telescope testing a new wide-angle, high-resolution CCD camera. Most of the spots scattered about the frame are foreground stars in our own Galaxy, but some spots are globular clusters orbiting the distant galaxy. NGC 4945 is thought to be quite similar to our own Milky Way Galaxy. X-ray observations reveal, however, that NGC 4945 has an unusual, energetic, Seyfert 2 nucleus that might house a large black hole.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2002 April 3 - NGC 4414: A Flocculent Spiral Galaxy
Explanation: How much mass do flocculent spirals hide? The above true color image of flocculent spiral galaxy NGC 4414 was taken with the Hubble Space Telescope to help answer this question. Flocculent spirals -- galaxies without well defined spiral arms -- are a quite common form of galaxy, and NGC 4414 is one of the closest. Stars and gas near the visible edge of spiral galaxies orbit the center so fast that the gravity from a large amount of unseen dark matter must be present to hold them together. Pictured above is the photogenic center of NGC 4414. A bright foreground star from our Milky Way Galaxy shines in the foreground of the image. Although NGC 4414's center likely holds little dark matter, understanding its matter distribution helps calibrate the rest of the galaxy and, by deduction, flocculent spirals in general. By determining a precise distance to NGC 4414, astronomers also hope to help calibrate the scale to the more distant universe.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2002 January 25 - The Spiral Arms of NGC 4622
Explanation: While stirring a morning cup of coffee and thinking cosmic thoughts many astronomers would glance at this Hubble Space Telescope image of spiral galaxy NGC 4622 and assume that the galaxy was rotating counterclockwise in the picture. One hundred million light-years away in the constellation Centaurus, NGC 4622's gorgeous outer spiral arms, traced by bright bluish star clusters and dark dust lanes, should be winding up like ... well, like swirls in a cup of coffee. But a closer look at this galaxy reveals that a pronounced inner spiral arm winds in the opposite direction. So which way is this galaxy rotating? Recent evidence combining ground-based spectroscopy and the sharp Hubble image data surprisingly indicates that the galaxy is likely rotating clockwise in the picture, its outer spiral arms opening outward in the direction of rotation. There are further indications that a past collision with a smaller companion galaxy has contributed to this bizarre rotational arrangement of spiral arms, essentially unique among known large spiral galaxies, in NGC 4622.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2001 November 6 - In the Center of Spiral Galaxy M83
Explanation: What's happening at the center of spiral galaxy M83? Just about everything, from the looks of it. M83, visible in the inset image on the upper left, is one of the closest spiral galaxies to our own Milky Way Galaxy and from a distance of 15 million light-years, appears to be relatively normal. Zooming in on M83's nucleus with the latest telescopes, however, shows the center to be an energetic and busy place. Visible in the above image from the Hubble Space Telescope are bright, newly formed stars and giant lanes of dark dust. An image with similar perspective from the Chandra X-ray Observatory shows the region is also rich in very hot gas and small bright sources. Observations with the large ground-based VLT telescopes show the very center likely has two separate nuclei.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2001 October 4 - M74: The Perfect Spiral
Explanation: If not perfect, then this spiral galaxy is at least one of the most photogenic. An island universe of about 100 billion stars, 30 million light-years away toward the constellation Pisces, NGC 628 or M74 presents a gorgeous face-on view to earthbound astronomers. Classified as an Sc galaxy, the grand design of M74's graceful spiral arms traced by bright blue star clusters and dark cosmic dust lanes, is similar in many respects to our own home galaxy, the Milky Way. Recorded with a 28 million pixel detector array, this impressive image celebrates first light for the Gemini Multi-Object Spectrograph (GMOS), a state-of-the-art instrument now operational at the 8-meter Gemini North telescope. The Gemini North Observatory gazes into the skies above Mauna Kea, Hawaii, USA, while its twin observatory, Gemini South, is scheduled to begin operations later this year from Cerro Pachn in central Chile.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2001 September 11 - Spiral Galaxy NGC 3310 Across the Visible
Explanation: The party is still going on in spiral galaxy NGC 3310. Roughly 100 million years ago, NGC 3310 likely collided with a smaller galaxy causing the large spiral galaxy to light up with a tremendous burst of star formation. The changing gravity during the collision created density waves that compressed existing clouds of gas and triggered the star-forming party. The above image composite by the Hubble Space Telescope was used to find the ages of many of the resulting clusters of stars. To the surprise of many, some of the clusters are quite young, indicating that starburst galaxies may remain in star-burst mode for quite some time. NGC 3310 spans about 50,000 light years, lies about 50 million light years away, and is visible with a small telescope towards the constellation of Ursa Major.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2001 August 3 - Warped Spiral Galaxy ESO 510 13
Explanation: How did spiral galaxy ESO 510-13 get bent out of shape? The disks of many spirals are thin and flat, but not solid. Spiral disks are loose conglomerations of billions of stars and diffuse gas all gravitationally orbiting a galaxy center. A flat disk is thought to be created by sticky collisions of large gas clouds early in the galaxy's formation. Warped disks are not uncommon, though, and even our own Milky Way Galaxy is thought to have a small warp. The causes of spiral warps are still being investigated, but some warps are thought to result from interactions or even collisions between galaxies. ESO 510-13, pictured above, is about 150 million light years away and about 100,000 light years across.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2001 July 1 - Spiral Galaxy NGC 7742
Explanation: This might resemble a fried egg you've had for breakfast, but it's actually much larger. In fact, ringed by blue-tinted star forming regions and faintly visible spiral arms, the yolk-yellow center of this face-on spiral galaxy, NGC 7742, is about 3,000 light-years across. About 72 million light-years away in the constellation Pegasus, NGC 7742 is known to be a Seyfert galaxy - a type of active spiral galaxy with a center or nucleus which is very bright at visible wavelengths. Across the spectrum, the tremendous brightness of Seyferts can change over periods of just days to months and galaxies like NGC 7742 are suspected of harboring massive black holes at their cores. This beautiful color picture is courtesy of the Hubble Space Telescope Heritage Project.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2001 May 22 - Spiral Galaxy NGC 1232
Explanation: Galaxies are fascinating not only for what is visible, but for what is invisible. Grand spiral galaxy NGC 1232, captured in detail by one of the new Very Large Telescopes, is a good example. The visible is dominated by millions of bright stars and dark dust, caught up in a gravitational swirl of spiral arms rotating about the center. Open clusters containing bright blue stars can be seen sprinkled along these spiral arms, while dark lanes of dense interstellar dust can be seen sprinkled between them. Less visible, but detectable, are billions of dim normal stars and vast tracts of interstellar gas, together wielding such high mass that they dominate the dynamics of the inner galaxy. Invisible are even greater amounts of matter in a form we don't yet know - pervasive dark matter needed to explain the motions of the visible in the outer galaxy. What's out there?

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2001 March 21 - Barred Spiral Galaxy NGC 2903
Explanation: NGC 2903 is a spiral galaxy similar to our own Milky Way Galaxy. Similarities include its general size and a central bar. One striking difference, however, is the appearance of mysterious hot spots in NGC 2903's core. Upon inspection of the above image and similar images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, these hot spots were found to be bright young globular clusters, in contrast to the uniformly old globular clusters found in our Milky Way Galaxy. Further investigation has indicated that current star formation is most rampant in a 2000 light-year wide circumnuclear ring surrounding NGC 2903's center. Astronomers hypothesize that the gravity of the central bar expedites star formation in this ring. NGC 2903 lies about 25 million light-years away and is visible with a small telescope towards the constellation of Leo.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2001 January 17 - Spiral Galaxy NGC 3310 in Ultraviolet
Explanation: Why is NGC 3310 bursting with young stars? The brightest of these new stars are so hot that they light up this spiral galaxy not only in blue light, but in light so blue humans can't see it: ultraviolet. The Hubble Space Telescope took the above photograph in different bands of ultraviolet light. Speculation holds that NGC 3310 collided with one of its own dwarf companion galaxies only about 50 million years previously. This merger sent density waves rippling around the spiral disk, causing many gas clouds to condense into star forming regions. Imaging nearby galaxies in ultraviolet light allows astronomers to better understand the images of distant highly redshifted galaxies in visible light, and so to understand why many of these distant galaxies appear relatively fragmented. The unusually smooth NGC 3310 spans over 20 thousand light years and lies about 50 million light years away towards the constellation of Ursa Major.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2000 October 4 - Barred Spiral Galaxy NGC 1300
Explanation: NGC 1300 is a large spiral galaxy that appears as a flattened figure eight. A huge bar that spans over 150,000 light-years across the galaxy center dominates its appearance. The picturesque galaxy lies about 75 million light-years distant, so that light that we see now left during the age of the dinosaurs. Although it is well known how fast different parts of NGC 1300 rotate, the specific orbits of many component stars -- including how they interact with the gigantic bar -- remains a topic of research. Our own Milky Way Galaxy is a spiral galaxy with a less prominent bar. NGC 1300 can be seen with a small telescope towards the constellation of Eridanus.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2000 September 20 - Gangly Spiral Galaxy NGC 3184
Explanation: NGC 3184 is a large spiral galaxy with a small nucleus and long sprawling spiral arms. Although NGC 3184 contains hundreds of billions of stars, the blue color of its spiral arms comes mostly from relatively few bright young blue stars. The galaxy is not empty of matter between these spiral arms -- the bright stars that highlight the arms were created in huge density waves that circle the center. Visible with a small telescope towards the constellation of Ursa Major, light takes about 25 million years to reach us from NGC 3184, and about 50,000 years just to cross it. NGC 3184 (Hubble type Sbc) is notable for its high abundance of heavy elements and a supernova that has occurred there recently.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2000 June 2 - The Secret Spiral Of IC3328
Explanation: IC3328 is an otherwise unremarkable dwarf elliptical galaxy about 50 million light-years away in the Virgo cluster. But hidden within IC3328 is a subtle, beautifully symmetric spiral structure! A team of astronomers recently made this totally surprising discovery using detailed digital images from the European Southern Observatory's 8.2 meter Antu telescope. They numerically modeled the smooth distribution of light for this galaxy (left) to enable more accurate measurements of its distance. When the smooth distribution was subtracted from the digital image, the startling spiral structure became apparent (right). Typical of large, rotating, disk galaxies with density waves, spiral structure is unprecedented in the blob-shaped aggregates of stars normally classified as elliptical galaxies. What created the "secret" spiral in IC3328? Some possibilities under consideration include tidal interactions with nearby galaxies and amplified internal stellar motions.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2000 February 15 - M106: A Spiral Galaxy with a Strange Core
Explanation: What's happening at the center of spiral galaxy M106? A swirling disk of stars and gas, M106's appearance is dominated by two bright spiral arms and dark dust lanes near the nucleus. Bright newly formed stars near their outer tips distinguish the spiral arms in the above photograph. The core of M106 glows brightly in radio waves and X-rays where twin jets have been found running the length of the galaxy. An unusual central glow makes M106 one of the closest examples of the Seyfert class of galaxies, where vast amounts of glowing gas are thought to be falling into a central massive black hole. M106, also designated NGC 4258, is a relatively close 25 million light years away, spans 30 thousand light years across, and can be seen with a small telescope towards the constellation of Canes Venatici.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: 2000 January 27 - Spiral Galaxy In Centaurus
Explanation: Centaurus, the Centaur, is one of the most striking constellations in the southern sky. The lovely Milky Way flows through this large constellation whose celestial wonders also include the closest star to the sun, Alpha Centauri, the largest globular star cluster in our galaxy, Omega Centauri, and the closest active galaxy, Centaurus A. Embraced by tightly wound spiral arms of bright blue star clusters, this gorgeous galaxy - cataloged as ESO 269-57 - also falls within Centaurus' borders. Seen behind a veil of foreground stars which lie within our own galaxy, this face-on spiral galaxy is about 150 million light-years away and 200,000 light-years across. The brighter foreground stars are marked by diffraction spikes caused by the telescope and yellow vertical stripes due to saturated digital camera pixels in the above Very Large Telescope image from the European Southern Observatory. Tantalizing wisps of more distant, faint galaxies are visible in the background.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: November 9, 1999 - Spiral Galaxies in Collision
Explanation: Billions of years from now, only one of these two galaxies will remain. Until then, spiral galaxies NGC 2207 and IC 2163 will slowly pull each other apart, creating tides of matter, sheets of shocked gas, lanes of dark dust, bursts of star formation, and streams of cast-away stars. Astronomers predict that NGC 2207, the larger galaxy on the left, will eventually incorporate IC 2163, the smaller galaxy on the right. In the most recent encounter that peaked 40 million years ago, the smaller galaxy is swinging around counter-clockwise, and is now slightly behind the larger galaxy. The space between stars is so vast that when galaxies collide, the stars in them usually do not collide.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: October 8, 1999 - NGC 1365: Barred Spiral Galaxy
Explanation: NGC 1365 is a giant barred spiral galaxy about 200,000 light-years in diameter and 60 million light-years distant in the southern constellation Fornax. These three recently released images offer views of this majestic island universe in visible and infrared light. In the middle is an optical ground-based image showing NGC 1365's dramatic spiral arms trailing away from its central galactic bar. Superposed colored rectangles define the corresponding fields of the inset images. At upper left, a Hubble Space Telescope near visible light image shows young blue star clusters and dark dust lanes located near the center of NGC 1365. The bright yellow nucleus likely houses a massive black hole. At lower right, the Hubble infrared view of the galaxy's center also shows young star clusters as bright blue spots but additionally reveals infrared-bright spots corresponding to newborn clusters still hidden from optical view by dust clouds. Astronomers believe the gravity field of NGC 1365's bar plays a crucial role in the galaxy's evolution, funneling gas and dust into the central star-forming maelstrom and ultimately feeding material into its massive black hole.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: September 26, 1999 - M83: A Barred Spiral Galaxy
Explanation: M83 is a bright spiral galaxy that can be found with a small telescope in the constellation of Hydra. It takes light about 15 million years to reach us from M83. M83 is quite a typical spiral - much like our own Milky Way Galaxy. Spiral galaxies contains many billions of stars, the youngest of which inhabit the spiral arms and glow strongly in blue light. Dark dust lanes are mixed in with the stars and help define M83's marked spiral structure. The space between the spiral arms is also filled with stars - but stars that are typically more dim and red. The stars and gas in spiral arms seem to be responding to much more mass than is visible here, implying that galaxies are predominantly composed of some sort of dark matter. Finding the nature of this dark matter remains one of the great challenges of modern science.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: June 24, 1999 - NGC 1365: A Nearby Barred Spiral Galaxy
Explanation: Many spiral galaxies have bars across their centers. Even our own Milky Way Galaxy is thought to have a bar, but perhaps not so prominent as the one in NGC 1365, shown above. The persistence and motion of the bar imply relatively massive spiral arms. The placements of bright young blue stars and dark dust lanes also indicate a strong rotating density wave of star formation. NGC 1365 is a member of the Fornax Cluster of Galaxies. Because NGC 1365 is relatively nearby, simultaneous measurements of its speed and distance are possible, which help astronomers estimate how fast our universe is expanding.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: June 9, 1999 - NGC 4414: A Telling Spiral
Explanation: How far away is this galaxy? Cosmologists the world over have been working hard to find out. Spiral galaxy NGC 4414 contains many Cepheid variable stars that oscillate in a way that allows astronomers to estimate their distance. From analyzing distances to galaxies like this, some astronomers have recently announced that they have again refined their estimate of the expansion rate of the universe. The running debate over this rate is not yet over, however, as another group of astronomers has recently announced a distance that corresponds to a smaller universe expansion rate from a completely new method. NGC 4414 shows many classic spiral galaxy features, including thick dust lanes, a central region rich in old red stars, and winding spiral arms glowing with young blue stars. Even classic spirals contain new surprises, though, as an unusual blue variable object has recently been found in NGC 4414.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: May 25, 1999 - NGC 6872: A Stretched Spiral
Explanation: What makes NGC 6872 so long? Measuring over 700,000 light years across from top to bottom, NGC 6872 is one of the largest barred spiral galaxies known. The galaxy's elongated shape might have something to do with its continuing collision with the smaller galaxy IC 4970, visible just above center. Of particular interest is NGC 6872's spiral arm on the upper left, as pictured above, which exhibits an unusually high amount of blue star forming regions. The light we see today left these colliding giants before the days of the dinosaurs, about 300 million years ago. NGC 6872 is visible with a small telescope in the constellation of Pavo.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: May 12, 1999 - Warped Spiral Galaxy ESO510 13
Explanation: How did spiral galaxy ESO510-13 get bent out-of-shape? The disks of many spirals are thin and flat, but not solid. Spiral disks are loose conglomerations of billions of stars and diffuse gas all gravitationally orbiting a galaxy center. A flat disk is thought to be created by sticky collisions of large gas clouds early in the galaxy's formation. Warped disks are not uncommon, though, and even our own Milky Way Galaxy is thought to have a small warp. The causes of spiral warps are still being investigated, but some warps are thought to result from interactions or even collisions between galaxies. ESO510-13, pictured above, is about 150 million light years away and about 100,000 light years across.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: April 12, 1999 - Nearby Spiral Galaxy NGC 4945
Explanation: For such a close galaxy, NGC 4945 is easy to miss. NGC 4945 is a spiral galaxy in the Centaurus Group of galaxies, located only six times farther away than the prominent Andromeda Galaxy. The thin disk galaxy is oriented nearly edge-on, however, and shrouded in dark dust. Therefore galaxy-gazers searching the southern constellation of Centaurus need a telescope to see it. The above picture was taken with a large telescope testing a new wide-angle, high-resolution CCD camera. Most of the spots scattered about the frame are foreground stars in our own Galaxy, but some spots are globular clusters orbiting the distant galaxy. NGC 4945 is thought to be quite similar to our own Milky Way Galaxy. X-ray observations reveal, however, that NGC 4945 has an unusual, energetic, Seyfert 2 nucleus that might house a large black hole.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: February 4, 1999 - Spiral Sunspot
Explanation: Spiral galaxies abound in the universe, but spiral sunspots are definitely an unusual twist. This distinctive spiral-shaped sunspot caught the attention of National Solar Observatory astronomers and was photographed on February 19, 1982 with the Vacuum Solar Telescope on Kitt Peak. Sunspots appear dark only because they are relatively cool - about 4,000 degrees compared to the 6,000 degrees Celsius of the surrounding solar surface. Associated with surface magnetic fields, their numbers increase and decrease in a regular pattern tracing the Solar Activity cycle. A maximum in sunspot numbers occurs every 11 years with the next maximum expected around the year 2001. This sunspot was actually about 50,000 miles across (Earth's diameter is about 8,000 miles) and held its shape for two days.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: January 21, 1999 - Spiral Galaxy NGC 253
Explanation: A camera with over 67 million pixels (digital picture elements) was used to record this stunning image of spiral galaxy NGC 253. Known as the Wide Field Imager (WFI), the camera is the latest instrument to be installed at the European Southern Observatory's 2.2 meter telescope in La Silla, Chile. Constructed from exposures made by the WFI in December 1998, this picture has been cropped from the full field to emphasize the galaxy and contrast adjusted to follow the graceful, winding arms and dramatic dust lanes of this photogenic island universe. Relatively bright foreground stars produce the sharp vertical streaks seen here while higher resolution versions of the image show intriguing, faint, background galaxies and likely globular star clusters associated with NGC 253. Two faint satellite trails are also visible. NGC 253, an Sc type spiral, is about 8 million light-years away in the southern constellation Sculptor.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: January 16, 1999 - Spiral Eddies On Planet Earth
Explanation: Can you identify this wispy stellar nebula? How many light-years from Earth did you say? Resembling a twisting cloud of gas and dust between the stars this swirling form is actually close by - a spiral eddy formed near the North Atlantic Gulf Stream off the East coast of the U. S. Tens of miles across, spiral eddies are an ocean current phenomenon discovered by observations from manned spacecraft. Imaged by the Challenger space shuttle crew during the STS 41G mission this eddie is dramatically visible due to the low sun angle and strong reflection of sunlight. The reflection is caused by a very thin biologically produced oily film on the surface of the swirling water. Prior to STS 41G these eddies were thought to be rare but are now understood to be a significant dynamic feature of ocean currents. However, no good explanation of their origin or persistence exists.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: December 20, 1998 - Edge On Spiral Galaxy NGC 891
Explanation: Is our Galaxy this thin? We believe so. The Milky Way, like NGC 891 pictured above, has the width of a typical spiral galaxy. Spirals have most of their bright stars, gas, and obscuring dust in a thin disk. This disk can be so thin the spiral galaxy appears edge-on like a compact disk seen sideways. The dark band across the middle is a lane of dust which absorbs light. Some of the billions of stars that orbit the center of NGC 891, however, appear to be moving too fast to just be traveling in circles. What causes this peculiar motion? One hypothesis is that NGC 891 has a large bar across its center -- a bar that would be obvious were we to see this galaxy face-on instead of edge-on. This false color picture was constructed from 3 near infrared images.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: September 30, 1998 - Spiral Galaxy NGC 1232
Explanation: Galaxies are fascinating not only for what is visible, but for what is invisible. Grand spiral galaxy NGC 1232, recently captured in detail by the new Very Large Telescope, is a good example. The visible is dominated by millions of bright stars and dark dust, caught up in a gravitational swirl of spiral arms rotating about the center. Open clusters containing bright blue stars can be seen sprinkled along these spiral arms, while dark lanes of dense interstellar dust can be seen sprinkled between them. Less visible, but detectable, are billions of dim normal stars and vast tracts of interstellar gas, together wielding such high mass that they dominate the dynamics of the inner galaxy. Invisible are even greater amounts of matter in a form we don't yet know - pervasive dark matter needed to explain the motions of the visible in the outer galaxy. What's out there?

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: September 22, 1998 - M61: Virgo Spiral Galaxy
Explanation: M61 is a barred spiral galaxy located in the nearby Virgo Cluster of Galaxies. Visible in M61 are a host of features common to spiral galaxies: bright spiral arms, a central bar, dust lanes, and bright knots of stars. M61, also known as NGC 4303, in similar to our own Milky Way Galaxy. M61 was discovered by telescope in 1779 twice on the same day, but one observer initially mistook the galaxy for a comet. Light from M61 takes about 60 million years to reach us. Recent observations of M61 have detected unpredicted high velocity gas moving in its halo.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: July 21, 1998 - Nearby Spiral M33
Explanation: M33 is a prominent nearby spiral galaxy. Nicknamed the Triangulum, M33 is one of the larger members of the Local Group of Galaxies. Two massive spiral galaxies dominate the Local Group: M31 and our Milky Way Galaxy. M33 is the only other spiral galaxy known in the Local Group. At 3 million light-years, M33 is the second closest spiral galaxy. M33 is thought by some to be a satellite galaxy to massive M31. M33 is close enough to appear twice the angular size of the full moon, when viewed with binoculars. Globular clusters in M33's halo appear unusual and might be much younger than globular clusters in our Galaxy's halo.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: May 25, 1998 - M83: A Barred Spiral Galaxy
Explanation: M83 is a bright spiral galaxy that can be found with a small telescope in the constellation of Hydra. M83 is a member of the Centaurus group of galaxies, a nearby group dominated by the massive galaxy Centaurus A. It takes light about 15 million years to reach us from M83. The spiral arms are given a blue color by the many bright young stars that have recently formed there. Dark dust lanes are also visible. Stars and gas in spiral arms seem to be responding to much more mass than is visible here, implying that galaxies are predominantly composed of some sort of dark matter. Finding the nature of this dark matter remains one of the great challenges of modern science.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: March 14, 1998 - A Spiral Galaxy Gallery
Explanation: A progression of beautiful spiral galaxies is illustrated above with three photographs from NASA's Ultraviolet Imaging Telescope (UIT). Flying above the Earth's obscuring layer of atmosphere on the Space Shuttle Columbia during the Astro-1 mission in 1990, UIT's cameras were able to image these distant spirals in the ultraviolet light produced by hot, young stars. These bright stars, newly condensed from gas and dust clouds, give away the location of the spiral arms they are born in. Because they are massive (many times the mass of the Sun), they are shortlived. Dying and fading before they move too far from their birth place they make excellent tracers of spiral structure. From left to right the galaxies are known as M33, M74, and M81 and have progressively more tightly wound spiral arms. Astronomers would classify these as Scd, Sc, and Sb type spirals using a galaxy classification scheme first worked out by Edwin Hubble.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: January 16, 1998 - Dusting Spiral Galaxies
Explanation: How much dust is in spiral galaxies? Does it block out much of the starlight? Because astronomers rely on an accurate knowledge of galaxy properties to investigate a wide range of problems, like galaxy and quasar evolution and the nature of dark matter, answers to simple questions like this are key. This striking, detailed Hubble Space Telescope image of dust in the outer reaches of a foreground spiral galaxy (left) back lit by an elliptical galaxy offers an elegant approach to providing the answers. As expected, dust lanes in the foreground galaxy seem to be associated with spiral arms. But surprisingly, many dust regions are not completely opaque and the dust is more smoothly distributed than anticipated. This "overlapping" pair of galaxies is cataloged as AM1316-241 and is about 400 million light-years away in the constellation Hydra.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: August 22, 1997 - IP Pegasi: Spiral Star
Explanation: Spiral arms aren't just for galaxies. A hot disk of gas surrounding a compact white dwarf star in the constellation of Pegasus has recently been revealed to be imprinted with this dramatic pattern. The white dwarf is part of the interacting binary star system IP Pegasi and the disk of gas is an accretion disk formed of material lost from a companion star and falling toward the white dwarf. The disk itself is smaller than the Sun's diameter, so the spiral pattern can not be imaged directly by telescopes. Instead, the spiraling disk of gas is mapped over a series of observations using a spectroscopic technique known as doppler tomography. The left panel above shows a tomogram, the directly measured gas velocity map for the system. The relative brightness corresponds to the intensity of light emitted by Hydrogen gas moving at the indicated velocity. The position at the center of this panel represents the velocity of the binary system's center of mass. In the middle panel, a simple model velocity field consistent with the measurements is shown. At the right, the calculated position map of the IP Pegasi accretion disk reveals a striking two armed trailing spiral pattern.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: May 19, 1997 - Barred Spiral Galaxy NGC 1365
Explanation: Many spiral galaxies have bars across their centers. Even our own Milky Way Galaxy is thought to have a bar, but perhaps not so prominent as the one in NGC 1365, shown above. The persistence and motion of the bar imply relatively massive spiral arms. The placements of bright young blue stars and dark dust lanes also indicate a strong rotating density wave of star formation. NGC 1365 is a member of the Fornax Cluster of Galaxies. Because NGC 1365 is relatively nearby, simultaneous measurements of its speed and distance are possible, which help astronomers estimate how fast our universe is expanding.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: April 19, 1997 - Spiral Galaxy M83
Explanation: The long winding arms of this nearby spiral galaxy define it as the "Southern Pinwheel." But M83 is quite a typical spiral - much like our own Milky Way Galaxy. Spiral galaxies contains many billions of stars, the youngest of which inhabit the spiral arms and glow strongly in blue light. Dark dust lanes are mixed in with the stars and help define M83's marked spiral structure. The space between the spiral arms is also filled with stars - but stars that are typically more dim and red. M83 has shown an unusual amount of stellar supernovae explosions - six since the turn of the century - more than any other Messier galaxy.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: February 28, 1997 - Edge-On Spiral Galaxy NGC 891
Explanation: Is our Galaxy this thin? We believe so. The Milky Way, like NGC 891 pictured above, has the width of a typical spiral galaxy. Spirals have most of their bright stars, gas, and obscuring dust in a thin disk. This disk can be so thin the spiral galaxy appears edge-on like a compact disk seen sideways. The dark band across the middle is a lane of dust which absorbs light. Some of the billions of stars that orbit the center of NGC 891, however, appear to be moving too fast to just be traveling in circles. What causes this peculiar motion? One hypothesis is that NGC 891 has a large bar across its center - a bar that would be obvious were we to see this galaxy face-on instead of edge-on. This false color picture was constructed from 3 near infrared images.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: August 12, 1996 - Leo Triplet Spiral Galaxy M65
Explanation: Spiral galaxy M65 is a normal spiral galaxy not unlike our own Milky Way. In fact, M65 is a typical spiral galaxy of a type that could be found anywhere in the local universe. Given a morphological type of "Sa", M65 shows tightly wrapped spiral arms and a large nuclear central bulge. The central bulge stars are older and redder than disk stars, which appear more blue. Stars in the bulge of the our own Milky Way Galaxy are also typically older and redder than stars in the disk where our Sun resides. M65 is a member of the Leo Triplet of galaxies, along with its neighbors M66 and NGC 3628. Although it appears that M65's gravity has distorted M66's symmetry, M65's symmetry seems unaffected by M66. M65 is located roughly 35 million light years away, so that light recorded today left after the fall of the dinosaurs but when many land mammals were just evolving on Earth.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: August 10, 1996 - Unusual Spiral Galaxy M66
Explanation: Spiral galaxy M66 is largest galaxy in the a group known as the Leo Triplet. M66 is somewhat peculiar because of its asymmetric spiral arms. Usually dense waves of gas, dust, and newly formed stars - called spiral density waves - circle a galactic center and create a symmetric galaxy. Gravity from nearby Leo Triplet neighbor M65, however, has probably distorted this galaxy. In M66, intricate long dust lanes are seen intertwined with the bright stars that light up the spiral arms. Recent research indicates that M66 is unusual in that older stars are thought to heat up the dust in the galaxy's central bulge - a job attributed to young and hot stars in many other galaxies. M66 is famous for a powerful "Type Ia" supernova that was observed in 1989. Stellar explosions like this are thought nearly identical and so by noting how bright they appear, astronomers can estimate their true distance - and therefore calibrate the scale of the universe!

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: July 13, 1996 - M81: A Bulging Spiral Galaxy
Explanation: Few stars are still forming in the old giant spiral galaxy M81. The blue regions in this picture - representing ultraviolet light - highlight regions of bright young stars and star formation and appear rare than in M74 and M33. The red regions - representing the visible light - show a large population of older, less massive stars. M81 is therefore classified as spiral galaxy type "Sab" on the Hubble Sequence of Galaxies. One distinguishing feature of these types of galaxies is the relatively large central bulge surrounding the center of the galaxy. A massive density wave circulates around the center of spiral galaxies. It is not well understood why the bulge of M81 glows as bright as it does in ultraviolet light. Speculation includes that this may be due to hot evolved stars such as those found in the ancient globular cluster Omega Centauri.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: July 9, 1996 - M74: A Grand Design Spiral Galaxy
Explanation: M74 is about the same size as our own Milky Way Galaxy. Like our Milky Way, M74 is classified a spiral galaxy. M74's sweeping lanes of stars and dust combined with its small nucleus make it a classic Grand Design Spiral. On the Hubble Sequence of Galaxies, M74 is listed as "Sc". In the above picture, visible light is shown in red and ultraviolet light superposed in blue. In general, older stars are more red and younger stars are blue. Studies with the Ultraviolet Imaging Telescope show that the disk of M74 has undergone significant star formation in just the past 500 million years.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: April 9, 1996 - A Spiral Galaxy Gallery
Explanation: A progression of beautiful spiral galaxies is illustrated above with three photographs from NASA's Ultraviolet Imaging Telescope (UIT). Flying above the Earth's obscuring layer of atmosphere on the Space Shuttle Columbia during the Astro-1 mission in 1990, UIT's cameras were able to image these distant spirals in the ultraviolet light produced by hot, young stars. These bright stars, newly condensed from gas and dust clouds, give away the location of the spiral arms they are born in. Because they are massive (many times the mass of the Sun), they are shortlived. Dying and fading before they move too far from their birth place they make excellent tracers of spiral structure. From left to right the galaxies are known as M33, M74, and M81 and have progressively more tightly wound spiral arms. Astronomers would classify these as Scd, Sc, and Sb type spirals using a galaxy classification scheme first worked out by Edwin Hubble.

Thumbnail image of picture found for this day. APOD: September 12, 1995 - Spiral Galaxy M83
Explanation: Long winding spiral arms are clearly evident on this spectacular picture of the spiral galaxy M83. The blue color of the spiral arms is caused by the relatively large fraction of young blue stars there. Dark dust lanes are mixed in with the stars and trace the spiral structure of the galaxy. This galaxy contains many billions of stars, and its light took many millions of years to reach us. Our own Milky Way Galaxy would appear similar to this if viewed from M83! This picture is number eight on a publicly posted list of images from the Anglo-Australian Telescope (AAT).


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