Mon. Jan 17th, 2022

Hubble sees a calm galaxy with an explosive past

Credit: ESA / Hubble & NASA, D. Jones, A. Riess et al.

The lazily twisted spiral arms of the spectacular galaxy NGC 976 fill the frame of this image from the NASA / ESA Hubble Space Telescope. This spiral galaxy is located about 150 million light-years from the Milky Way in the constellation Aries. Despite its calm appearance, NGC 976 has hosted one of the most violent astronomical phenomena known – a supernova explosion. These catastrophically violent events take place at the end of massive star life and can outshine entire galaxies in a short period of time. While supernovae mark the death of massive stars, they are also responsible for the creation of heavy elements that are incorporated into later generations of stars and planets.

Supernovae are also a useful tool for astronomers measuring the distance to distant galaxies. The amount of energy thrown into space by some types of supernova explosions is very uniform, allowing astronomers to estimate their distances from how bright they appear to be when viewed from Earth. This image – which was created using data from Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 – comes from a large collection of Hubble observations of nearby galaxies, which host supernovae as well as a pulsating class of stars known as Cepheid variables. Both cepheids and supernovae are used to measure astronomical distances, and galaxies containing both objects provide useful natural laboratories where the two methods can be calibrated against each other.

Image: Hubble sees cosmic traces in a galactic duo

Hubble sees a calm galaxy with an explosive past (2022, January 15)
retrieved January 15, 2022

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