A Rainbow Tightly Spun

NASA, ESA, CXC, JPL, Cal­tech and STScI

Tightly spun fil­a­ments of color wind around the core of the Pin­wheel galaxy in this combo image from four of NASA’s Great Observatories.

Explore the arch­ing tails of color in this image. What sto­ries or pic­tures do you see? Leave a note in the com­ments below.

The Pin­wheel Galaxy lies fairly close to Earth; just 21 mil­lion light-years away toward the con­stel­la­tion Ursa Major, the Great Bear or the Big Dip­per. It is con­sid­ered a grand design spi­ral galaxy and we see it nearly face-on allow­ing astronomers a good look at the tight, bright nucleus and long, grace­ful spi­ral arms. This galaxy is also about 70 per­cent larger than our own Milky Way Galaxy. It dwarfs our galaxy with a diam­e­ter of 170,000 light-years.

Com­pos­ite images, images made from sev­eral tele­scopes, like this help astronomers match up fea­tures that show brightly in some parts of the light spec­trum with those in oth­ers. They are more than just a rain­bow of pretty col­ors. Each color tells a dif­fer­ent story about how stars form and how they die. Red col­ors in this image come from the Spitzer Space Tele­scope. Warm dust, where stars are being born, shine brightly for Spitzer. Yel­low bits of starlight shin­ing through are from the Hub­ble Space Tele­scope. Hub­ble sees the Uni­verse as we would see it with our own eyes in vis­i­ble light. Blue areas shine brightly in ultra­vi­o­let. These are young, hot stars seen by NASA’s Galaxy Evo­lu­tion Explorer, or GALEX, tele­scope. The Chan­dra X-ray tele­scope sees areas in pur­ple. This is light given off by super­novae, exploded stars, hot gas and mate­r­ial falling into black holes.

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