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May 31, 2001 09:00 AM (EDT)

News Release Number: STScI-2001-16

Hubble Unveils a Galaxy in Living Color

May 31, 2001: In this view of the center of the magnificent barred spiral galaxy NGC 1512, the Hubble telescope reveals a stunning 2,400 light-year-wide circle of infant star clusters. Astronomers generally believe that the giant bar, which is too faint to be seen in this image, funnels the gas to the inner ring, where massive stars are formed within numerous star clusters. Located 30 million light-years away, NGC 1512 is a neighbor of our Milky Way galaxy.

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Q & A: Understanding the Discovery

  1. 1. What is a barred spiral galaxy?

  2. It is a common type of spiral galaxy in which the pinwheel-like arms arise from each end of a bright central bar of gas and stars rather than from the center as in normal spirals. Although astronomers aren't certain how a bar forms, they believe it may be created by instabilities in a galaxy's disk of gas and stars, perhaps caused by an interaction with another galaxy. In Hubble's close-up view of the core of NGC 1512, the bar is too faint to see.

  3. 2. Why is this picture so colorful?

  4. The colorful picture is representative of the galaxy's natural colors. Blue depicts hot, young stars; red, cooler, older stars. The photo is a color composite created from seven images taken with three different Hubble cameras. The composite shows the full range of wavelengths — from ultraviolet to near infrared — covered by the Hubble telescope. Although ultraviolet and infrared wavelengths are invisible to the human eye, astronomers have "color-coded" them to show important details in the starburst region. The bright blue clumps are star clusters observed in ultraviolet and visible light. Infrared wavelengths, shown in red, reveal gas clouds illuminated by radiation from hidden clusters of young stars.

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Credit: NASA, ESA, and D. Maoz (Tel-Aviv University and Columbia University)

Also on the team of scientists are Aaron Barth, Luis Ho, Amiel Sternberg, and Alex Filippenko.