Hubble captures spiral galaxy in constellation of Serpens

The image from the Hubble Space Telescope shared this week shows a “snake galaxy” with writhing, serpent-like spiral arms, correctly positioned in the constellation of Serpents, or The Serpent. Technically known as NGC 5921, the galaxy is 80 million light-years away.

The lazily writhing spiral arms of the galaxy NGC 5921 writhe across this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. This galaxy is located about 80 million light-years from Earth and, like our own galaxy, the Milky Way, contains a prominent bar – a central linear band of stars. About half of all spiral galaxies can contain rods. These beams affect their parent galaxies by stimulating star formation and influencing the movement of stars and interstellar gas. ESA/Hubble & NASA, J. Walsh; Thanks to: R. Colombari

The galaxy NGC 5921 is a type called a barred spiral galaxy, like our Milky Way. The bar refers to the strip of bright light at the center of the galaxy, a region of dust and gas where many stars are born – which is why it glows so brightly. About half of the known galaxies have beams, and researchers think they evolve as galaxies age and dust and gas are drawn to their centers by gravity.

The image was taken as part of a Hubble study into how the supermassive black holes in the hearts of galaxies relate to the stars in them. Hubble used his Wide Field Camera 3 instrument to create the image, which was combined with data from the Gemini Observatory on the ground.

“The two telescopes have helped astronomers better understand the relationship between galaxies such as NGC 5921 and the supermassive black holes they contain,” Hubble scientists write. “Hubble’s contribution determined the masses of stars in the galaxies. Hubble also took measurements that helped calibrate Gemini’s observations. Together, Hubble and Gemini have provided astronomers with a count of nearby supermassive black holes in a wide variety of galaxies.”

Hubble and Gemini have worked together in the past, for example when observations from both telescopes were combined with data from NASA’s Juno spacecraft to learn more about Jupiter’s complex atmosphere.

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