05 January 2011

Rings of Fire

Over Christmas, two space telescopes—the European Space Agency's Herschel and XMM-Newton observatories—took a look at our closest spiraling neighbor, the Andromeda galaxy situated more than 2 million light-years away. It puts Andromeda in a whole new light....literally. The Herschel, which gathers invisible infrared light, detected intriguing rings of dust encircling the galaxy's center. Some speculate that these dust rings, not fully seen in the optical, may have formed from a past collision with another galaxy. Within these dusty circles, multitudes of new stars are forming.

Andromeda galaxy in infrared; x-ray sources in blue

Meanwhile, the Newton x-ray telescope spotted hundreds of x-ray sources (the blue dots in the picture) smack dab in the center. Some are the debris from exploding stars; others are stars in close binaries getting their mass pulled off by the intense gravitational pull of their denser partners. The x rays are given off from the intensely heated matter. What a show! Stellar birth and death, captured in one intriguing image.
Picture Credit: European Space Agency

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