NASA/ESA/M. Regan and B. Whitmore (STScI)/R. Chandar (University of Toledo)

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ScienceShot: The Dusty Swirls of the Whirlpool Galaxy

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON—Like dancing fire dragons, two dusty spiral arms swirl around the core of a galaxy in this infrared Hubble picture of M51, the Whirlpool galaxy. The image, presented here today at the 217th meeting of the American Astronomical Society, was obtained by subtracting known starlight from a photograph taken by Hubble's Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer (NICMOS), leaving just the infrared glow of warm dust. The countless small, bright specks in the photograph are tiny clumps of newborn stars that have never been seen before because their optical light is obscured by the surrounding dust. Surprisingly, no larger, discrete dust clouds were found in the Whirlpool, which is 37 million light-years from Earth. Such larger clouds were expected on the basis of optical photographs. Images like this should help astronomers untangle how and where gas and dust in galaxies collapse into new stars.

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