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 M51 (NGC 5194) : Whirlpool Galaxy   NGC 3314 : Spiral Galaxy Pair  
  M51 (NGC 5194) : Whirlpool Galaxy     NGC 3314 : Spiral Galaxy Pair

The Whirlpool galaxy has been one of the most photogenic galaxies in amateur and professional astronomy. This galaxy, also called M51 or NGC 5194, is having a close encounter with a nearby companion galaxy, NGC 5195. The companion's gravitational pull is triggering star formation in the main galaxy, as seen in brilliant detail by numerous, luminous clusters of young and energetic stars. The bright clusters are highlighted in red by  glowing hydrogen gas, which is associated with the most luminous young stars in the spiral arms.. Along the spiral arms, dust "spurs" are seen branching out almost perpendi- cular to the main spiral arms. The regularity and large number of these features suggests to astronomers that previous models of "two-arm" spiral galaxies may need to be revisited. The new images also reveal a dust disk in the nucleus, which may provide fuel for a nuclear black hole.


Through an extraordinary chance alignment, the Hubble telescope has captured a view of a face-on spiral galaxy lying precisely in front of another larger spiral. The unique pair is called NGC 3314. This line-up provides astronomers with the rare chance to see the dark material within the foreground galaxy, seen only because it is silhouetted against the light from the object behind it. The bright blue stars forming a pinwheel shape near the center of the front galaxy have formed recently from interstellar gas and dust. However, in the fore- ground galaxy, NGC 3314a, there are numerous additional dark dust lanes that are not associated with any bright young stars. A small, red patch near the center of the image is the bright nucleus of the background galaxy, NGC 3314b; its light is reddened by passing through a space containing interstellar dust particles of the front galaxy.

Krešimir J. Adamić