The Hubble Space Telescope just pictured a galaxy nestled 67 million light years away in the cancer picture – and it’s fluffy. Known as NGC 2775, the galaxy has fuzzy arms that spiral out of its center like a white dog’s limbs, and it is littered with millions of young, burning blue stars. While some galaxies have defined, glittering arms called grand design spirals, the spiral galaxy spirals are still there – but hidden by clouds of uneven gas, creating the snuggly dog fur effect.
NGC 2775’s gas spirals, which act as star production factories, have spread far beyond the galaxy’s unusually massive bulge. Earlier in the life of the galaxy, the bulge would have been filled with gas that had long ago turned into clusters of white hot stars. The current enormous size of the bulge and the relatively small ratio of helical arms to bulge size reveal that this galaxy has not produced many stars recently, according to the European Space Agency (ESA), which partnered with NASA to produce this image.
While the sharper, glittering spiral galaxies of great design are often featured in news media and space movies, they make up only 10 percent of all galaxies. Almost 70 percent of all galaxies are flocculent, like NGC 2775, or multiple-arm, a hybrid between flocculent and grand design, like the Milky Way. Most galaxies in our interstellar area are magnificent design spirals.
This dreamy photograph of NGC 2275 is the latest of Hubble’s discoveries. Hubble Space Telescope started thirty years ago, on April 24, 1990, and traveled 4 billion miles in a continuous orbit around the Earth. The telescope, which is the size of a tractor trailer, has produced enough raw scientific information to drive 15,000 different scientific articles. With its powerful lens, it looked back in time and photographed places more than 13.4 billion light years from Earth.
NASA is preparing to launch Hubble’s successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, in March 2021, which aims to map the early universe and peek into space farther than Hubble ever could. When launched, Webb will be the largest telescope in space – it’s so huge that it has to be folded, like paper, into a rocket, and will evolve when it’s in space. With 100 times Hubble’s magnifying effect, astronomers will use Web to photograph the first galaxies formed after the Big Bang – and perhaps meet many other fluffy galaxies along the way.
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