My idea of the best photographs of galaxies


This page is a collection of Hubble Space Telescope images of galaxies, simply for your enjoyment. Before you browse further through this page, I would like you to take a good look at the recent Ultradeep Field image of galaxies released by the Hubble Space Telescope Institute in the early months of 2004. Click on the image below (or Ultra Deep Field)to view a larger image of this amazing photograph, and to learn about how it was taken.


A Grazing Encounter between Two Spiral Galaxies

The Hubble telescope has caught a cosmic dance between two spiral galaxies. The larger galaxy, NGC 2207, is on the left; the smaller one, IC 2163, is on the right. Their dance has already caused quite a stir. Strong gravitational forces from NGC 2207 have distorted the shape of its smaller dance partner, flinging out stars and gas into long streamers that extend 100,000 light-years toward the right-hand edge of the picture. Eventually this dance will end. Billions of years from now the two galaxies will become one.

Faraway Galaxies Provide a Stunning "Wallpaper" Backdrop for a Runaway

Against a stunning backdrop of thousands of galaxies, this odd-looking galaxy with the long streamer of stars appears to be racing through space, like a runaway pinwheel firework. This picture of the galaxy UGC 10214 was taken by the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS), which was installed aboard NASA's Hubble Space Telescope in March during Servicing Mission 3B. Dubbed the "Tadpole," this spiral galaxy is unlike the textbook images of stately galaxies. Its distorted shape was caused by a small interloper, a very blue, compact galaxy visible in the upper left corner of the more massive Tadpole. The Tadpole resides about 420 million light-years away in the constellation Draco. Seen shining through the Tadpole's disk, the tiny intruder is likely a hit-and-run galaxy that is now leaving the scene of the accident. Strong gravitational forces from the interaction created the long tail of debris, consisting of stars and gas that stretch out more than 280,000 light-years. Numerous young blue stars and star clusters, spawned by the galaxy collision, are seen in the spiral arms, as well as in the long "tidal" tail of stars. Each of these clusters represents the formation of up to about a million stars. Their color is blue because they contain very massive stars, which are 10 times hotter and 1 million times brighter than our Sun. Once formed, the star clusters become redder with age as the most massive and bluest stars exhaust their fuel and burn out. These clusters will eventually become old globular clusters similar to those found in essentially all halos of galaxies, including our own Milky Way. Two prominent clumps of young bright blue stars in the long tail are separated by a "gap" — a section that is fainter than the rest of the tail. These clumps of stars will likely become dwarf galaxies that orbit in the Tadpole's halo. The galactic carnage and torrent of star birth are playing out against a spectacular backdrop: a "wallpaper pattern" of 6,000 galaxies. These galaxies represent twice the number of those discovered in the legendary Hubble Deep Field, the orbiting observatory's "deepest" view of the heavens, taken in 1995 by the Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2. The ACS picture, however, was taken in one-twelfth the time it took to observe the original Hubble Deep Field. In blue light, ACS sees even fainter objects than were seen in the "deep field." The galaxies in the ACS picture, like those in the deep field, stretch back to nearly the beginning of time. They are a myriad of shapes and represent fossil samples of the universe's 13-billion-year evolution. The ACS image is so sharp that astronomers can identify distant colliding galaxies, the "building blocks" of galaxies, an exquisite "Whitman's Sampler" of galaxies, and many extremely faraway galaxies. ACS made this observation on April 1 and 9, 2002. The color image is constructed from three separate images taken in near-infrared, orange, and blue filters.

Credit: NASA, H. Ford (JHU), G. Illingworth (UCSC/LO), M.Clampin (STScI), G. Hartig (STScI), the ACS Science Team, and ESA

The ACS Science Team: H. Ford, G. Illingworth, M. Clampin, G. Hartig, T. Allen, K. Anderson, F. Bartko, N. Benitez, J. Blakeslee, R. Bouwens, T. Broadhurst, R. Brown, C. Burrows, D. Campbell, E. Cheng, N. Cross, P. Feldman, M. Franx, D. Golimowski, C. Gronwall, R. Kimble, J. Krist, M. Lesser, D. Magee, A. Martel, W. J. McCann, G. Meurer, G. Miley, M. Postman, P. Rosati, M. Sirianni, W. Sparks, P. Sullivan, H. Tran, Z. Tsvetanov, R. White, and R. Woodruff.

Hubble's Newest Camera Takes a Deep Look at Two Merging Galaxies

The Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS), the newest camera on NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, has captured a spectacular pair of galaxies engaged in a celestial dance of cat and mouse or, in this case, mouse and mouse. Located 300 million light-years away in the constellation Coma Berenices, the colliding galaxies have been nicknamed "The Mice" because of the long tails of stars and gas emanating from each galaxy. Otherwise known as NGC 4676, the pair will eventually merge into a single giant galaxy. The image shows the most detail and the most stars that have ever been seen in these galaxies. In the galaxy at left, the bright blue patch is resolved into a vigorous cascade of clusters and associations of young, hot blue stars, whose formation has been triggered by the tidal forces of the gravitational interaction. Streams of material can also be seen flowing between the two galaxies. The clumps of young stars in the long, straight tidal tail [upper right] are separated by fainter regions of material. These dim regions suggest that the clumps of stars have formed from the gravitational collapse of the gas and dust that once occupied those areas. Some of the clumps have luminous masses comparable to dwarf galaxies that orbit in the halo of our own Milky Way Galaxy. Computer simulations by astronomers Josh Barnes (University of Hawaii) and John Hibbard (National Radio Astronomy Observatory, Charlottesville, Va.) show that we are seeing two nearly identical spiral galaxies approximately 160 million years after their closest encounter. The long, straight arm is actually curved, but appears straight because we see it edge-on. The simulations also show that the pair will eventually merge, forming a large, nearly spherical galaxy (known as an elliptical galaxy). The stars, gas, and luminous clumps of stars in the tidal tails will either fall back into the merged galaxies or orbit in the halo of the newly formed elliptical galaxy.

The Mice presage what may happen to our own Milky Way several billion years from now when it collides with our nearest large neighbor, the Andromeda Galaxy (M31). This picture is assembled from three sets of images taken on April 7, 2002, in blue, orange, and near-infrared filters.

Credit: NASA, H. Ford (JHU), G. Illingworth (UCSC/LO), M.Clampin (STScI), G. Hartig (STScI), the ACS Science Team, and ESA

The ACS Science Team: H. Ford, G. Illingworth, M. Clampin, G. Hartig, T. Allen, K. Anderson, F. Bartko, N. Benitez, J. Blakeslee, R. Bouwens, T. Broadhurst, R. Brown, C. Burrows, D. Campbell, E. Cheng, N. Cross, P. Feldman, M. Franx, D. Golimowski, C. Gronwall, R. Kimble, J. Krist, M. Lesser, D. Magee, A. Martel, W. J. McCann, G. Meurer, G. Miley, M. Postman, P. Rosati, M. Sirianni, W. Sparks, P. Sullivan, H. Tran, Z. Tsvetanov, R. White, and R. Woodruff.

Hubble Reveals Stellar Fireworks Accompanying Galaxy Collisions

The Hubble telescope has uncovered over 1,000 bright; young star clusters bursting to life in a brief, intense, brilliant "fireworks show" at the heart of a pair of colliding galaxies. The picture on the left provides a sweeping view of the two galaxies, called the Antennae. The green shape pinpoints Hubble's view. Hubble's close-up view [right] provides a detailed look at the "fireworks" at the center of this wreck. The respective cores of the twin galaxies are the orange blobs, left and right of center, crisscrossed by filaments of dark dust. A wide band of chaotic dust stretches between the cores of the two galaxies. The sweeping spiral-like patterns, traced by bright blue star clusters, are the result of a firestorm of star birth that was triggered by the collision.

Hubble Mosaic of the Majestic Sombrero Galaxy

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has trained its razor-sharp eye on one of the universe's most stately and photogenic galaxies, the Sombrero galaxy, Messier 104 (M104). The galaxy's hallmark is a brilliant white, bulbous core encircled by the thick dust lanes comprising the spiral structure of the galaxy. As seen from Earth, the galaxy is tilted nearly edge-on. We view it from just six degrees north of its equatorial plane. This brilliant galaxy was named the Sombrero because of its resemblance to the broad rim and high-topped Mexican hat. At a relatively bright magnitude of +8, M104 is just beyond the limit of naked-eye visibility and is easily seen through small telescopes. The Sombrero lies at the southern edge of the rich Virgo cluster of galaxies and is one of the most massive objects in that group, equivalent to 800 billion suns. The galaxy is 50,000 light-years across and is located 28 million light-years from Earth. Hubble easily resolves M104's rich system of globular clusters, estimated to be nearly 2,000 in number — 10 times as many as orbit our Milky Way galaxy. The ages of the clusters are similar to the clusters in the Milky Way, ranging from 10-13 billion years old. Embedded in the bright core of M104 is a smaller disk, which is tilted relative to the large disk. X-ray emission suggests that there is material falling into the compact core, where a 1-billion-solar-mass black hole resides. In the 19th century, some astronomers speculated that M104 was simply an edge-on disk of luminous gas surrounding a young star, which is prototypical of the genesis of our solar system. But in 1912, astronomer V. M. Slipher discovered that the hat-like object appeared to be rushing away from us at 700 miles per second. This enormous velocity offered some of the earliest clues that the Sombrero was really another galaxy, and that the universe was expanding in all directions. The Hubble Heritage Team took these observations in May-June 2003 with the space telescope's Advanced Camera for Surveys. Images were taken in three filters (red, green, and blue) to yield a natural-color image. The team took six pictures of the galaxy and then stitched them together to create the final composite image. One of the largest Hubble mosaics ever assembled, this magnificent galaxy has a diameter that is nearly one-fifth the diameter of the full moon.

Credit: NASA and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

An Abrasive Collision Gives One Galaxy a "Black Eye"

A collision of two galaxies has left a merged star system with an unusual appearance as well as bizarre internal motions. Messier 64 (M64) has a spectacular dark band of absorbing dust in front of the galaxy's bright nucleus, giving rise to its nicknames of the "Black Eye" or "Evil Eye" galaxy. Fine details of the dark band are revealed in this image of the central portion of M64 obtained with the Hubble Space Telescope. M64 is well known among amateur astronomers because of its appearance in small telescopes. It was first cataloged in the 18th century by the French astronomer Messier. Located in the northern constellation Coma Berenices, M64 resides roughly 17 million light-years from Earth. At first glance, M64 appears to be a fairly normal pinwheel-shaped spiral galaxy. As in the majority of galaxies, all of the stars in M64 are rotating in the same direction, clockwise as seen in the Hubble image. However, detailed studies in the 1990's led to the remarkable discovery that the interstellar gas in the outer regions of M64 rotates in the opposite direction from the gas and stars in the inner regions. Active formation of new stars is occurring in the shear region where the oppositely rotating gases collide, are compressed, and contract. Particularly noticeable in the image are hot, blue young stars that have just formed, along with pink clouds of glowing hydrogen gas that fluoresce when exposed to ultraviolet light from newly formed stars. Astronomers believe that the oppositely rotating gas arose when M64 absorbed a satellite galaxy that collided with it, perhaps more than one billion years ago. This small galaxy has now been almost completely destroyed, but signs of the collision persist in the backward motion of gas at the outer edge of M64. This image of M64 was taken with Hubble's Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2). The color image is a composite prepared by the Hubble Heritage Team from pictures taken through four different color filters. These filters isolate blue and near-infrared light, along with red light emitted by hydrogen atoms and green light from Strömgren y.

Credit: NASA and The Hubble Heritage Team (AURA/STScI)

Acknowledgment: S. Smartt (Institute of Astronomy) and D. Richstone (U. Michigan)

Galactic Silhouettes

This new image from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and its Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2) shows the unique galaxy pair called NGC 3314. Through an extraordinary chance alignment, a face-on spiral galaxy lies precisely in front of another larger spiral. This line-up provides us with the rare chance to visualize dark material within the front galaxy, seen only because it is silhouetted against the object behind it. Dust lying in the spiral arms of the foreground galaxy stands out where it absorbs light from the more distant galaxy. This silhouetting shows us where the interstellar dust clouds are located, and how much light they absorb. The outer spiral arms of the front galaxy appear to change from bright to dark, as they are projected first against deep space, and then against the bright background of the other galaxy. NGC 3314 lies about 140 million light-years from Earth, in the direction of the southern hemisphere constellation Hydra. The bright blue stars forming a pinwheel shape near the center of the front galaxy have formed recently from interstellar gas and dust. In many galaxies, interstellar dust lies only in the same regions as recently formed blue stars. However, in the foreground galaxy, NGC 3314a, there are numerous additional dark dust lanes that are not associated with any bright young stars. A small, red patch near the center of the image is the bright nucleus of the background galaxy, NGC 3314b. It is reddened for the same reason the setting sun looks red. When light passes through a volume containing small particles (molecules in the Earth's atmosphere or interstellar dust particles in galaxies), its color becomes redder.

The Hubble Heritage color image of NGC 3314 was constructed from archival images taken with WFPC2 in April 1999 by Drs. William Keel and Ray White III (University of Alabama) in blue and infrared light, combined with new images obtained by the Heritage team in March 2000 using blue, green and red filters.

Credit: NASA and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Magnificent Details in a Dusty Spiral Galaxy

The Key Project team used this Hubble telescope view of the magnificent spiral galaxy, NGC 4414, to help calculate the expansion rate of the universe. Based on their discovery and careful brightness measurements of variable stars in this galaxy, the Key Project astronomers were able to make an accurate determination of the distance to the galaxy. The resulting distance to NGC 4414, about 60 million light-years, along with similarly determined distances to other nearby galaxies, contributes to astronomers' overall knowledge of the expansion rate of the cosmos, and helps them determine the age of the universe.

Image Credit: Hubble Heritage Team (AURA/STScI/NASA)

Hubble Serves up a Galaxy

What may first appear as a sunny side up egg is actually NASA Hubble Space Telescope's face-on snapshot of the small spiral galaxy NGC 7742. But NGC 7742 is not a run-of-the-mill spiral galaxy. In fact, this spiral is known to be a Seyfert 2 active galaxy, a type of galaxy that is probably powered by a black hole residing in its core. The core of NGC 7742 is the large yellow "yolk" in the center of the image. The lumpy, thick ring around this core is an area of active starbirth. The ring is about 3,000 light-years from the core. Tightly wound spiral arms also are faintly visible. Surrounding the inner ring is a wispy band of material, which is probably the remains of a once very active stellar breeding ground.

Credit: Hubble Heritage Team (AURA/STScI/NASA)

A Bright Ring of Star Birth around a Galaxy's Core

This Hubble telescope snapshot reveals clusters of infant stars that formed in a ring around the core of the barred-spiral galaxy NGC 4314. This stellar nursery, whose inhabitants were created within the past 5 million years, is the only place in the entire galaxy where new stars are being born. This close-up view also illustrates other interesting details in the galaxy's core: dust lanes, a smaller bar of stars, dust and gas embedded in the stellar ring, and an extra pair of spiral arms packed with young stars. These details make the center resemble a miniature version of a spiral galaxy. The black-and-white image on the left, taken by a ground-based telescope, shows the entire galaxy.

Credits: G. Fritz Benedict, Andrew Howell, Inger Jorgensen, David Chapell (University of Texas), Jeffery Kenney (Yale University), and Beverly J. Smith (CASA, University of Colorado), and NASA


These are just some of the really cool pictures of galaxies taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. I hope you have enjoyed your visit here. To see more, check out the actual HST Webpage, or just go back to the Milky Way, or go to the Syllabus .

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