NASA’s breathtaking photo was snapped by the historic Hubble telescope using the Wide Field Camera 3 instrument (WFC3). The photo shows the distant galaxy NGC 7773 in is full glory hundreds of millions of miles away. The galaxy, much like our very own Milky Way, is a so-called barred spiral galaxy. These incredible star clusters feature a bar-like shape at the heart of the galaxy, with twisting or spiral arms extending from the sides.
According to the European Space Agency (ESA), which operates the Hubble telescope in partnership with NASA, NGC 7773 could reveal some clues about the formation of galaxies.
The ESA said: “Shown here, NGC 7773 is a beautiful example of a barred spiral galaxy.
“A luminous bar-shaped structure cut prominently through the galaxy’s bright core, extending to the inner boundary of NGC 7773’s sweeping, pinwheel-like spiral arms.
“Astronomers think that these bar structures emerge later in the lifetime of a galaxy, as sate-forming material makes its way towards the galactic centre – younger spirals do not feature barred structures as often as older spirals do, suggesting that bars are a sign of galactic maturity.
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“They are also thought to act as stellar nurseries, as they gleam brightly with copious numbers of youthful stars.”
Our own Milly Way galaxy is believed to be barred just like NGC 7773.
However, because we are located within the galaxy itself, it is hard for astronomers here on Earth to get a good view of the Milky Way.
NASA said: “Several different telescopes, both on the ground and in space, have taken images of the disk of the Milky Way by taking a series of pictures in different directions – a bit like taking panoramic pictures with your camera or phone.
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“The concentration of stars in a band adds to the evidence that the Milky Way is a spiral galaxy.
“If we lived in an elliptical galaxy, we would see the stars of our galaxy spread out all around the sky, not in a single band.”
Regardless, the Earth is located about 26,000 light-years from the galaxy’s heart – a supermassive black hole known as Sagittarius A*.
Effectively, NASA said, our solar system is located on the “suburbs” of the Milky Way.
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But by observing galaxies like NGC 7773 in the wild, astronomers hope to learn more about the universe and our corner of space.
The ESA said: “Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is thought to be a barred spiral like NGC 7773.
“By studying galactic specimens such as NGC 7773 throughout the universe, researchers hope to learn more about the processes that have shaped — and continue to shape — our cosmic home.”
The space agency added Hubble’s WFC3 camera, which was installed in 2009, has produced some of the most “breathtaking and iconic” Hubble photographs.