The spiral galaxy is neighboured by the smaller, yellowish galaxy NGC 5195 and the two appear to be locked in a game of tug-of-war. At first glance, astronomers might assume the smaller cluster is pulling on the outstretched spiral arm of M51. But the high detail afforded by NASA’s Hubble reveals a degree of separation between the two.
NASA said: “Galaxy Messier 51 (M51), also designated NGC 5194, is nicknamed the Whirlpool because of its prominent swirling structure.
“Its two curving arms, a hallmark of so-called grand-design spiral galaxies, are home to young stars, while its yellow core is where older stars reside.
“Many spiral galaxies possess numerous, loosely shaped arms, which make their spiral structure less pronounced.
“These arms are star-formation factories, compressing hydrogen gas and creating clusters of new stars.”
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According to NASA, the smaller NGC 5194 has been gliding past M51 for hundreds of millions of year.
NASA said: “As NGC 5195 drifts by, its gravitational muscle pumps up waves within the Whirlpool’s pancake-shaped disk.
“The waves are like ripples in a pond generated when a rock is thrown in the water.
“When the waves pass through orbiting gas clouds within the disk, they squeeze the gaseous material along each arm’s inner edge.
“The dark dusty material looks like gathering storm clouds.
“These dense clouds collapse, creating a wake of star birth, as seen in the bright pink star-forming regions.
Galaxy Messier 51 (M51), also designated NGC 5194, is nicknamed the Whirlpool
“The largest stars eventually sweep away the dusty cocoons with a torrent of radiation, hurricane-like stellar winds, and shock waves from supernova blasts.
“Bright blue star clusters emerge from the mayhem, illuminating the Whirlpool’s arms like city streetlights.”
The picture was snapped in 2005 and has been re-released by NASA to celebrate Hubble’s 30 years in space.
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The iconic telescope was placed into orbit in 1990.
During these 30 years, Hubble has made more than 1.4 million observations.
Every week, the telescope transmits about 150 gigabits of raw scientific data.
The data has allowed scientists to publish more than 17,000 papers.
NASA said: “Those papers have been cited in other papers over 800,000 times.”
Quick facts about the Hubble Space Telescope:
1. The telescope orbits the planet at speeds of about 17,000mph
2. Hubble is powered by six solar-charged batteries with the power storage of about 22 car batteries.
3. Hubble has gazed at locations as far as 13.4 billion light-years from Earth
4. The telescope’s Primary Mirror Diameter measures 94.5 inches across.
5. Hubble completes a lap around Earth every 95 minutes.