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Credit: European Southern Observatory (ESO)

A new image from the powerful HAWK-I telescope on European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope at Paranal Observatory in Chile reveals the perfect form of NGC 1365.

Explore the dust lanes in the barred spiral galaxy’s core. NGC 1365 is one of the best known and closely studied barred spiral galaxies because of its nearly perfect form. The new infrared images show details that are hard to pick out through the gas and dust astronomers see in images in visible light. A vast number of stars glow in the central bar and along the spiral arms. The bar of the galaxy consists of older, yellow stars. Near the edge of the spiral arms, pink nebulae show birth places of stars. The huge central bar distorts the gravity field of the galaxy, causing the gas and dust in the spiral arms to become squashed and stretched. This interaction causes spurts of intense star formation. Follow the spiral arms and look for the bright, blue young star clusters. The bar also funnels gas and dust toward the center of the galaxy where astronomers find evidence of a super-massive black hole.

The two huge outer spiral arms of NGC 1365 spread across 200,000 light-years. It takes these outer arms 350 million years to complete one lap around the galactic core. Some of the most well-known galaxies are spiral galaxies, similar to the Andromeda Galaxy. But most of the spiral galaxies we see in the night sky are barred spiral galaxies. Recent evidence suggests that our Milky Way Galaxy is a barred spiral galaxy. So studying a galaxy like NGC 1365 helps astronomers discover more about our home galaxy.

NGC 1365 is found just around the corner from Earth galactically speaking. The galaxy is relatively close, lying about 60 million light-years away and is a member of the Fornax cluster of galaxies.

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