Astronomy Picture of the Day

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

2011 May 19
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NGC 253: Close Up
Credit: Hubble Legacy Archive, ESA, NASA; Processing and additional imaging - Robert Gendler

Explanation: This dusty island universe is one of the brightest spiral galaxies in planet Earth's sky. Seen nearly edge-on, NGC 253 is only 13 million light-years away, the largest member of the Sculptor Group of galaxies, neighbor to our own local galaxy group. The detailed close-up view is a five frame mosaic based on data assembled from the Hubble Legacy Archive. Beginning on the left near the galaxy's core, the sharp panorama follows dusty filaments, interstellar gas clouds, and even individual stars toward the galaxy's edge at the right. The magnificent vista spans nearly 50,000 light-years. The frame at the far right has been compressed slightly to bring into view an intriguing pair of background galaxies. Designated a starburst galaxy because of its frantic star forming activity, NGC 253 features tendrils of dust rising from a galactic disk laced with young star clusters and star forming regions. NGC 253 is also known to be a strong source of high-energy x-rays and gamma rays, likely due to massive black holes near the galaxy's center.

Tomorrow's picture: the whole milky way

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