Enjoy the latest Hubble image for 2021 – A distant, smiling galaxy

In 2014, amateur astronomers in New Zealand glimpsed an eruption of light from the constellation Centauri. NASA later confirmed that this fire was a massive supernova explosion from another galaxy an incredible 57 million light-years away from our Milky Way.

“Dedicated amateur astronomers often make intriguing discoveries – especially of volatile astronomical phenomena such as supernovae and comets,” NASA explained in their Hubble feed. At the time of writing, this is the last Hubble picture released for the year.

NASA and ESA have now released a dazzling new photo of the home of this explosion, captured by our eternally faithful Hubble telescope: the galaxy NGC 3568 with its nebulous gas and twinkling stars rolling through space here under the extra bright and much denser stars from our own galaxy.

Is it just us, or does it actually look like it’s smiling at us from all over the room?

Galaxy NGC 3568. (M. Sun / NASA / ESA / Hubble)Galaxy NGC 3568. (M. Sun / NASA & Hubble / ESA)

NGC 3568’s rivers of stars swirl in a spiral shape with rod with two sweeping arms seen here from the side. Barred spiral galaxies differ from other spiral galaxies in our universe because their arms do not bend all the way to the center of the galaxy, but instead connect to a central straight line of stars.

Below is another example of a barred galaxy, NGC 1300, seen from above.

Bright central line of stars with two swirling arms.The Fragile Spiral Galaxy NGC 1300. (NASA / ESA / The Hubble Heritage Team)

About 60 percent of all galaxies are thought to be spiral galaxies, and two-thirds of them appear to be blocked, including our own Milky Way.

Diagram showing the different types of galaxies including spiral and elliptical.The morphological classification of galaxies. (Antonio Ciccolella / M. De Leo)

In 2008, a study of more than 2,000 spiral galaxies revealed that the barred types were seen far less in this part of the universe 7 billion years ago compared to the amount we see today. This suggests that they may be an older stage of a galaxy’s life cycle – gradually forming when lots of stars deviate slightly from their circular orbit around the center of the galaxy.

“The small extensions in the stars’ orbit grow and they lock in place, forming a rod,” IBM astronomer Bruce Elmegreen explained at the time. “The rod becomes even stronger as it locks more and more of these elongated orbits in place. Eventually, a large portion of the stars in the inner region of the galaxy join the rod.”

Older still are elliptical galaxies that lack areas of very active star formation and are full of older red stars.

With the successful launch of the James Webb Telescope this week, we can hopefully look forward to seeing even more incredible details about such distant wonders in the new year. Our most powerful telescope to date, with infrared properties that can penetrate clouds of gas and dust to peek into the stars’ kindergartens, can even help reveal the full life cycle of a galaxy.

You can read more about the image on NASA’s website.

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