This collage of images in visible and infrared light reveals how the barred spiral galaxy NGC 1365 is feeding material into its central region, igniting massive star birth and probably causing its bulge of stars to grow. The material also is fueling a black hole in the galaxy's core. A galaxy's bulge is a central, football-shaped structure composed of stars, gas, and dust.
The black-and-white image in the center, taken by a ground-based telescope, displays the entire galaxy. But the telescope's resolution is not powerful enough to reveal the flurry of activity in the galaxy's hub. The blue box in the galaxy's central region outlines the area observed by the NASA Hubble Space Telescope's visible-light camera, the Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2). The red box pinpoints a narrower view taken by the Hubble telescope's infrared camera, the Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer (NICMOS).
A barred spiral is characterized by a lane of stars, gas, and dust slashing across a galaxy's central region. It has a small bulge that is dominated by a disk of material. The spiral arms begin at both ends of the bar. The bar is funneling material into the hub, which triggers star formation and feeds the bulge.
The visible-light picture at upper left is a close-up view of the galaxy's hub. The bright yellow orb is the nucleus. The dark material surrounding the orb is gas and dust that is being funneled into the central region by the bar. The blue regions pinpoint young star clusters.
In the infrared image at lower right, the Hubble telescope penetrates the dust seen in the WFPC2 picture to reveal more clusters of young stars. The bright blue dots represent young star clusters; the brightest of the red dots are young star clusters enshrouded in dust and visible only in the infrared image. The fainter red dots are older star clusters.
The WFPC2 image is a composite of three filters: near-ultraviolet (3327 Angstroms), visible (5552 Angstroms), and near-infrared (8269 Angstroms). The NICMOS image, taken at a wavelength of 16,000 Angstroms, was combined with the visible and near-infrared wavelengths taken by WFPC2.
The WFPC2 image was taken in January 1996; the NICMOS data were taken in April 1998.
Credits for the ground-based image: Allan Sandage (The Observatories of the Carnegie Institution of Washington) and John Bedke (Computer Sciences Corporation and the Space Telescope Science Institute)
Credits for the WFPC2 image: NASA and John Trauger (Jet Propulsion Laboratory)