Today at the American Astronomical Society's winter meeting in Seattle, one team of researchers presented a wonderful view of two "partner galaxies," M81 and M82, captured by NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE. Another team showed off two radically different Hubble Space Telescope views of the Whirlpool Galaxy, also known as M51. For more about the first image, from WISE, click here. For a more detailed look at the second two images, from Hubble, click here.
This image from NASA's Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, features two stunning galaxies engaged in an intergalactic dance. The galaxies, Messier 81 and Messier 82, swept by each other a few hundred million years ago, and will likely continue to twirl around each other multiple times before eventually merging into a single galaxy. The relatively recent encounter triggered a spectacular burst of star formation visible in both galaxies.
These images by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope show off two dramatically different face-on views of the spiral galaxy M51, dubbed the Whirlpool Galaxy.
The image at top, taken in visible light, highlights the attributes of a typical spiral galaxy, including graceful, curving arms, pink star-forming regions, and brilliant blue strands of star clusters. In the image below, most of the starlight has been removed, revealing the Whirlpool's skeletal dust structure, as seen in near-infrared light. This new image is the sharpest view of the dense dust in M51. The narrow lanes of dust revealed by Hubble reflect the galaxy's moniker, the Whirlpool Galaxy, as if they were swirling toward the galaxy's core.