November 1, 2001: The appearance of a galaxy can depend strongly on the color of the light with which it is viewed. This Hubble Heritage image of NGC 6782 illustrates a pronounced example of this effect. This spiral galaxy, when seen in visible light, exhibits tightly wound spiral arms that give it a pinwheel shape similar to that of many other spirals. However, when the galaxy is viewed in ultraviolet light with NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, its shape is startlingly different.
Ultraviolet light has a shorter wavelength than ordinary visible light, and is emitted from stars that are much hotter than the Sun. At ultraviolet wavelengths, which are rendered as blue in the Hubble image, NGC 6782 shows a spectacular, nearly circular bright ring surrounding its nucleus. The ring marks the presence of many recently formed hot stars.
Two faint, dusty spiral arms emerge from the outer edge of the blue ring and are seen silhouetted against the golden light of older and fainter stars. A scattering of blue stars at the outer edge of NGC 6782 in the shape of two dim spiral arms shows that some star formation is occurring there too. The inner ring surrounds a small central bulge and a bar of stars, dust, and gas. This ring is itself part of a larger dim bar that ends in these two outer spiral arms. Astronomers are trying to understand the relationship between the star formation seen in the ultraviolet light and how the bars may help localize the star formation into a ring.