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Hubble telescope spies bright ring of star formation in distant galaxy

Scott Sutherland
Meteorologist/Science Writer

Monday, June 16, 2014, 5:36 PM - This incredible new image, captured by the Hubble Space Telescope, is of NGC 3081, a distant galaxy with spectacular golden rings of star formation surrounding its core.

NGC 3081 is a barred spiral galaxy, with a 'bar' of dust, gas and stars that extends outward from the galactic core, and two or more arms of dust and gas that spiral outward from there, toward the galaxy's edges. Our home galaxy, the Milky Way, is very much the same. However, these rings around NGC 3081's core are quite remarkable. They're called 'resonances' and they are regions where bright new stars are being born.

According to NASA, these resonances are typically caused by the bar at the centre of the galaxy. The effects of the bar's collective gravity causes dust and gas to 'pile up' in in specific regions around the core. Anywhere where there's a concentration of dust and gas in a galaxy is a ripe region for star formation, as it only takes a tiny gravitation 'nudge' to get that dust and gas to start to coalesce and clump together to eventually collapse into a blazing star.

Since our own galaxy is also a barred spiral galaxy, it's possible that the Milky Way has one or more of these resonances as well. However, being inside our galaxy, and with our view of the galactic core blocked by the clouds of gas and dust in the spiral arms, it's not as easy to see as it is for us to see the ones in NGC 3081. Given that NGC 3081 is over 86 million light years away from us, thus we're seeing it as it was over 86 million years ago, it's quite possible that our Milky Way had these resonances long ago, but they've calmed down by now.

Image Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA; acknowledgement: R. Buta (University of Alabama)

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