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Hubble snaps galaxy on the edge

Picture of a spiral galaxy captured by the Hubble Space
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Picture of a spiral galaxy captured by the Hubble Space  

(CNN) -- A newly released picture taken by NASA's premier orbiting observatory reveals an awesome perspective on a nearby galaxy, one that could provide a sense of deja vu for those who look into the heavens on dark nights.

The Hubble Space Telescope focused its eye directly into the edge of a nearby spiral galaxy. The image captures with intricate precision the massive clouds of dust and gas that extend along the galaxy's main disk. Even though the galaxy is 55 million light-years away, hardly half of it fits into Hubble's field of vision.

Seen from above, the galaxy would resemble a pinwheel, as would our own Milky Way. But viewed edge on, it exposes a band of dark interstellar dust that absorbs light from stars behind it in the galactic interior.

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Most of the clouds concentrate in the galactic plane, forming a long, thin, dark band that seems to divide the galaxy in half.

"If one views the Milky Way by going well away from city lights," said Hubble researchers in a statement on Thursday, "dust clouds in the disk of our own galaxy appear to split the glowing band of the Milky Way in two."

By studying the color and amount of light absorbed by such galactic cloud bands, scientists can calculate how much matter they contain. Some possess as much as one million times the mass of our sun.

New stars are thought to form inside such cosmic clouds. Later when the dark dust dissipates, young hot blue stars can shine unimpeded. This galaxy, known as NGC 4013 and around the constellation Ursa Major, reveals several such stellar nurseries, near the middle of the image.

The bright star in the upper left side of the image, which seems to reside in the galactic plane, is really in the foreground in the Milky Way.



RELATED STORIES:
Scientists spy dust 'doughnut' around young star
February 26, 2001
Hubble holds up magnifying glass to 'ant-nebula'
February 1, 2001
Hubble records fireworks when galaxies collide
November 2, 2000
Nebulous 'Spirograph' astounds Hubble astronomers
September 11, 2000

RELATED SITES:
Space Telescope Science Institute
Hubble Heritage Project
NASA

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