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Galactic beauty a study in star power

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The gravity of Galaxy M51's nearby companion, just off the upper edge of this image, is triggering star formation in the main galaxy, creating bright, red clusters of young stars  

(CNN) -- A photo of a galaxy is offering astronomers new insights into the formation of stars, and a new twist on the composition of galactic arms, Hubble Space Telescope scientists said.

The celestial beauty is experiencing a proliferation of star births, triggered by the gravity of a neighbor galaxy.

Bright red spots dotting the spiral arms and dust clouds of galaxy M51 identify the locations of the clusters of young, luminous and energetic stars. The red signifies the emissions of glowing hydrogen gas.

The gravity of a companion galaxy just off the upper edge of the image is spurring the stellar births in the main whirlpool galaxy.

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The composite picture, released Thursday, also reveals for the first time the intricate structure of cold dust clouds associated with the hot hydrogen emissions, Hubble scientists said.

Dust "spurs" branch out almost perpendicular to the main spiral arms. Their frequency and regularity have led astronomers to reconsider the model of two-arm galaxies.

The image also shows a dust disk in the nucleus, which could provide fuel for a black hole.

M51 is 20 million light-years away from Earth, in the constellation Canes Venatici. The M51 portrait is a composite of images from the Hubble Space Telescope and the Kitt Peak National Observatory in Tucson, Arizona.



RELATED STORIES:
Young stars rock their cradle in Hubble pic
March 28, 2001
Hubble snaps galaxy on the edge
March 1, 2001
Scientists spy dust 'doughnut' around young star
February 26, 2001
Hubble holds up magnifying glass to 'ant-nebula'
February 1, 2001
Hubble captures wispy decay of nebulous giant
December 6, 2000

RELATED SITES:
Hubblesite
Hubble Heritage Project
Kitt Peak National Observatory
NASA

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