See the large spiral galaxy M99 design in the Hubble image

The swirling spiral of the elegant galaxy M99 is on display in this week’s image from the Hubble Space Telescope. As a prototypical spiral galaxy, like our Milky Way, M99 has the classic spinning disk of stars, gas, and dust, which is concentrated and bright in the center and stretches out into space with spiraling arms. But his particular galaxy isn’t just any spiral galaxy – it’s a “grand design” spiral galaxy, a classification given to the sharpest, most orderly spiral galaxies whose arms are particularly prominent and well-defined.

The magnificent spiral galaxy M99 fills the frame of this NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image. M99 – which lies about 42 million light-years from Earth in the constellation of Coma Berenices – is a “grand design” spiral galaxy, so called because of the well-defined and prominent spiral arms visible in this image. ESA/Hubble & NASA, M. Kasliwal, J. Lee and the PHANGS-HST team

The galaxy M99 is located in the constellation of Coma Berenices and is approximately 42 million light-years from Earth. As well as being visually stunning, this galaxy is an interesting research target and has been imaged twice by Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 instrument, for two different research projects.

The first project for which M99 was observed was one that looked at the difference between two types of explosions that can occur at the end of a star’s life: novae and supernovae. Supernovae are the most dramatic and famous events, in which massive stars run out of fuel and explode in huge, bright events that can send out shock waves and leave behind distinctive remnants. The less famous novae are fainter events that occur when white dwarfs in a binary system with a larger star suck up layers of material from that star’s outer shell.

However, there may be events that exist between the brightness of these two types of events. “Current astronomical theories predict that sudden, fleeting events could occur and glow with luminosity between that of novae and supernovae,” the Hubble scientists write. “Although shrouded in mystery and controversy, astronomers observed such an event in M99 and turned to Hubble for its keen vision to take a closer look and precisely locate the source of the fading.”

The other project for which M99 was observed was to examine how young stars form from clouds of cold dust, in a project called High Angular Resolution Physics in Nearby Galaxies with the Hubble Space Telescope (PHANGS -HST).

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