Monday, April 22, 2024

Spiral Galaxy ESO 422-41 in Columba | Hubble Space Telescope

Spiral Galaxy ESO 422-41 in Columba | Hubble Space Telescope

This picture depicts the spiral galaxy ESO 422-41. It lies about 34 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Columba. The patchy, star-filled structure of the galaxy’s spiral arms and the glow from its dense core are laid out in intricate detail here by Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys. Images of this galaxy have, however, a decades-long history.

The name ESO 422-41 comes from its identification in the European Southern Observatory (B) Atlas of the Southern Sky. In the times before automated sky surveys with space observatories, such as the European Space Agency’s Gaia, many stars, galaxies and nebulae were discovered by means of large photographic surveys. Astronomers used the most advanced large telescopes of the time to produce hundreds of photographs, covering an area of the sky. They later studied the resulting photographs, attempting to catalogue all the new astronomical objects revealed.

In the 1970s, a new telescope at ESO’s La Silla facility in Chile performed such a survey of the southern sky. It still had not been examined in as much depth as the sky in the north. At the time, the premier technology for recording images was glass plates treated with chemicals. The resulting collection of photographic plates became the ESO (B) Atlas of the Southern Sky. Astronomers at ESO and in Uppsala, Sweden collaborated to study the plates, recording hundreds of galaxies—ESO 422-41 being just one of those—star clusters, and nebulae. Many were new to astronomy.

Image Description: A spiral galaxy, with a brightly shining core and two large arms. The arms are broad, faint overall and quite patchy, and feature several small bright spots where stars are forming. A few foreground stars with small diffraction spikes can be seen in front of the galaxy.

Astronomical sky surveying has since transitioned through digital, computer-aided surveys, such as the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and the Legacy Surveys, to surveys made by space telescopes including Gaia and the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer. Even so, photographic sky surveys contributed immensely to astronomical knowledge for decades, and the archives of glass plates serve as an important historical reference for large swathes of the sky. Several are still actively used today, for instance to study variable stars through time. The objects that these surveys revealed, including ESO 422-41, can now be studied in depth by telescopes, such as Hubble. 

Credit: European Space Agency (ESA)/Hubble & NASA, C. Kilpatrick

Release Date: April 22, 2024

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