Posts Tagged ‘M101’

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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A Giant Among Giants

Credit: NASA, ESA, K. Kuntz (JHU), F. Bresolin (University of Hawaii), J. Trauger (Jet Propulsion Lab), J. Mould (NOAO), Y.-H. Chu (University of Illinois, Urbana), and STScI

Galaxies are among the largest structures in the universe. But some galaxies, such as Messier 101, are giants among smaller giants.

M101, also called the Pinwheel Galaxy, is considered a giant galaxy and is best known example of a “grand design spiral.” Explore the mirrored spiral arms as they curve away from the bright galactic core in this image from NASA‘s Hubble Space Telescope. The face-on spiral galaxy shows us vast regions of star-forming nebulae, brilliant, blue areas of new stars and lanes of dark dust. Thick dust and gas give M101 the fuel it needs to create new stars far into the future. M101 is nearly twice as large as our Milky Way. As you move from one side of this galaxy to the other, you will cross 170,000 light-years. Astronomers estimate that the galaxy contains more than 1 trillion stars. Explore also dozens of distant background galaxies seen in the image.

The Pinwheel Galaxy lies just a stone’s throw away, about 25 million light-years from Earth toward the constellation Ursa Major, the Great Bear. Light that we’re seeing from this galaxy has been traveling for 25 million years to reach our eyes here on Earth. When the light rays left M101, Earth was cooling into a series of ice ages, mammals were flourishing along with many modern birds, and whales were appearing in the oceans along with modern sharks.


The ancient peoples saw pictures in the sky. From those patterns in the heavens, ancient storytellers created legends about heroes, maidens, dragons, bears, centaurs, dogs and mythical creatures...
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