The US space agency NASA and European space agency’s iconic Hubble Space Telescope (HST) has captured an image of a spiral galaxy named NGC 278 located 38 million light-years away from Earth in the northern constellation of Cassiopeia (The Seated Queen). The stunning image of cosmic beauty was captured by the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 aboard HST.
The galaxy NGC 278 is witnessing very rapid star formation and it may look serene to some. This flurry of activity is shown by the unmistakable blue-hued knots speckling the galaxy’s spiral arms, each of which marks a clump of hot newborn stars.
However, NGC 278’s star formation is somewhat unusual; it does not extend to the galaxy’s outer edges, but is only taking place within an inner ring some 6500 light-years across. This two-tiered structure is visible in this image — while the galaxy’s center is bright, its extremities are much darker. This odd configuration is thought to have been caused by a merger with a smaller, gas-rich galaxy — while the turbulent event ignited the center of NGC 278, the dusty remains of the small snack then dispersed into the galaxy’s outer regions. Whatever the cause, such a ring of star formation, called a nuclear ring, is extremely unusual in galaxies without a bar at their center, making NGC 278 a very intriguing sight.
Hubble Space Telescope is a joint venture of NASA and ESA. The telescope was launched in 1990 and since then it is the largest telescope in space. HST has helped scientists in exploring the deepest corners of the universe and has beamed back millions of stunning shots in its entire career. However, HST will be replaced by the James Webb Telescope in 2018 as it has thrice larger lens when compared to HST.
The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland, conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy in Washington, D.C.