An international team of astronomers has used the Wide Field Camera 3 aboard NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope to collect a detailed image of the barred spiral galaxy Messier 83 (M83).
Messier 83, also known as the Southern Pinwheel Galaxy, lies in the constellation of Hydra, about 15 million light-years from Earth.
The new image captures thousands of star clusters, hundreds of thousands of individual stars, and supernova remnants. The galactic panorama unveils a tapestry of the drama of stellar birth and death spread across 50,000 of light years.
The newest generations of stars are forming largely in clusters on the edges of the dark spiral dust lanes. They produce huge amounts of UV light that is absorbed by surrounding diffuse gas clouds, causing them to glow in pinkish hydrogen light.
Gradually, the fierce stellar winds from the youngest, most massive stars blow away the gas, revealing bright blue star clusters. These clusters are about 1 million to 10 million years old.
The populations of stars up to 100 million years or older appear yellow or orange by comparison because the young blue stars have already burned out.
The galactic center of Messier 83 is very unusual. The supermassive black hole at its heart is not alone. This striking spiral displays a phenomenon known as a double nucleus – a feature that has also been spotted in the Andromeda Galaxy (M31).
This does not mean that Messier 83 contains two central black holes, but that its single supermassive black hole may be ringed by a lopsided disc of stars, which orbits around the black hole and creates the appearance of a dual core.
As well as this double nucleus, Messier 83 has hosted quite a few supernova explosions – six in total that astronomers have recently observed: SN 1923A, SN 1945B, SN 1950B, SN 1957D, SN 1968L and SN 1983N.
As well as these explosions, almost 300 supernova remnants — the older leftovers from exploded stars — have been found within Messier 83.
This new image was presented on January 09, 2014 at the 223rd meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington, DC.
Jeremy Heartley et al. 2014. Early Results from Star Date: M83 – A Citizen Science Project to Age Date Star Clusters in the Southern Pinwheel Galaxy. 223rd meeting of the American Astronomical Society, abstract # 442. 33