News Release Archive:

News Release 321 of 1051

September 9, 2009 11:00 AM (EDT)

News Release Number: STScI-2009-25

Hubble Opens New Eyes on the Universe


Image: Galactic Wreckage in Stephan's Quintet

Galactic Wreckage in Stephan's QuintetSTScI-PRC2009-25d

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A clash among members of a famous galaxy quintet reveals an assortment of stars across a wide color range, from young, blue stars to aging, red stars.

This portrait of Stephan's Quintet, also known as Hickson Compact Group 92, was taken by the new Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) aboard NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. Stephan's Quintet, as the name implies, is a group of five galaxies. The name, however, is a bit of a misnomer. Studies have shown that group member NGC 7320, at upper left, is actually a foreground galaxy about seven times closer to Earth than the rest of the group.

Three of the galaxies have distorted shapes, elongated spiral arms, and long, gaseous tidal tails containing myriad star clusters, proof of their close encounters. These interactions have sparked a frenzy of star birth in the central pair of galaxies. This drama is being played out against a rich backdrop of faraway galaxies.

The image, taken in visible and near-infrared light, showcases WFC3's broad wavelength range.

The colors trace the ages of the stellar populations, showing that star birth occurred at different epochs, stretching over hundreds of millions of years. The camera's infrared vision also peers through curtains of dust to see groupings of stars that cannot be seen in visible light.

NGC 7319, at top right, is a barred spiral with distinct spiral arms that follow nearly 180 degrees back to the bar. The blue specks in the spiral arm at the top of NGC 7319 and the red dots just above and to the right of the core are clusters of many thousands of stars. Most of the quintet is too far away even for Hubble to resolve individual stars.

Continuing clockwise, the next galaxy appears to have two cores, but it is actually two galaxies, NGC 7318A and NGC 7318B. Encircling the galaxies are young, bright blue star clusters and pinkish clouds of glowing hydrogen where infant stars are being born. These stars are less than 10 million years old and have not yet blown away their natal cloud. Far away from the galaxies, at right, is a patch of intergalactic space where many star clusters are forming.

NGC 7317, at bottom left, is a normal-looking elliptical galaxy that is less affected by the interactions.

Sharply contrasting with these galaxies is the dwarf galaxy NGC 7320 at upper left. Bursts of star formation are occurring in the galaxy's disk, as seen by the blue and pink dots. In this galaxy, Hubble can resolve individual stars, evidence that NGC 7320 is closer to Earth.

NGC 7320 is 40 million light-years from Earth. The other members of the quintet reside 290 million light-years away in the constellation Pegasus.

These farther members are markedly redder than the foreground galaxy, suggesting that older stars reside in their cores. The stars' light also may be further reddened by dust stirred up in the encounters.

Spied by Edouard M. Stephan in 1877, Stephan's Quintet is the first compact group ever discovered.

WFC3 observed the quintet in July and August 2009. The composite image was made by using filters that isolate light from the blue, green, and infrared portions of the spectrum, as well as emission from ionized hydrogen.

These Hubble observations are part of the Hubble Servicing Mission 4 Early Release Observations. NASA astronauts installed the WFC3 camera during a servicing mission in May to upgrade and repair the 19-year-old Hubble telescope.

Object Name: Stephan's Quintet

Image Type: Astronomical

Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team

Technical facts about this image:

About this Object
Object Name: Stephan's Quintet (HCG 92)
Object Description: Interacting Galaxy Group
Position (J2000): R.A. 22h 35m 57s.51
Dec. +33° 57' 35".68
Constellation: Pegasus
Distance: Stephan's Quintet is 290 million light-years (90 million parsecs) away. The foreground, superposed NGC 7320 is 40 million light-years (12 million parsecs) away.
Dimensions: This image is 4 arcminutes (345,000 light-years or 106,000 parsecs) wide.
About these Data
Data Description: The Hubble images were created from data from proposal 11502: K. Noll and M. Livio (STScI), D. Leckrone and M. Niedner (NASA/GSFC), and Z. Levay and M. Mutchler (STScI).
Instrument: WFC3/IR and WFC3/UVIS
Exposure Date(s): July/August, 2009
Exposure Time: 23 hours
Filters: WFC3/IR: F140W (J-H)
WFC3/UVIS: F438W (B), F606W (V), F657N (H-alpha + [N II]), F665N (H-alpha + [N II]), and F814W (I)
About this Image
Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team
Release Date: September 9, 2009
Color: The image is a composite of separate exposures made by the WFC3 instrument on the Hubble Space Telescope. Six filters were used to sample broad and narrow wavelength ranges. The color results from assigning different hues (colors) to each monochromatic image. In this case, the assigned colors are:
F140W (J-H) red
F657N/F665N (H-alpha) red
F814W (I) red
F606W (V) green
F438W (B) blue
Orientation/Scale: Galactic Wreckage in Stephan's Quintet
Acknowledgments for Stephan's Quintet
Observers: K. Noll and M. Livio (STScI), D. Leckrone and M. Niedner (NASA/GSFC), and Z. Levay and M. Mutchler (STScI)
Data Analysis: H. Bushouse, J. Anderson, and M. Mutchler (STScI)
Image Composition: Z. Levay and L. Frattare (STScI)
Text: D. Weaver and R. Villard (STScI)
Illustrations: Z. Levay (STScI)
Video: G. Bacon (STScI)
Science Consultants: M. Livio and B. Whitmore (STScI)


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