NICMOS finds a golden ring at the heart of a galaxy (NICMOS image)

Give someone you know a diamond ring: NGC 4013

This image of another galaxy, NGC 4013, looks like a gold ring encrusted with a diamond. The 'diamond' is really a star belonging to our Milky Way Galaxy in our line of sight and is actually a lot nearer to us than NGC 4013.

NGC 4013 is in the constellation Ursa Major and is 55 million light-years from Earth. This image was taken by the Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer (NICMOS) aboard the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope on 12 May 2002.

This edge-on view reveals that galaxies are thin, pancake-shaped objects. It also reveals huge clouds of dust and gas in the galaxy's plane, forming the dark band, about 500 light-years thick. The dark clouds stand out in the picture because they absorb the light of background stars. They are believed to be where new stars are formed.

The NICMOS instrument sees near-infrared wavelengths of light, so that it can penetrate the dust that obscures the inner hub of the galaxy. The human eye cannot see infrared light so colours have been assigned to correspond to near-infrared wavelengths. The blue light represents shorter near-infrared wavelengths and the red light corresponds to longer wavelengths.

Here NICMOS has penetrated the dusty disc and looked right into the galactic core. To the surprise of astronomers, NICMOS found a brilliant band-like structure, that may be a ring of newly formed stars [yellow band in photo].

Last update: 21 October 2003

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