galaxies

The Venerable Hubble Space Telescope Keeps Delivering

The world was much different in 1990 when NASA astronauts removed the Hubble Space Telescope from Space Shuttle Discovery’s cargo bay and placed it into orbit. The Cold War was ending, there were only 5.3 billion humans, and the World Wide Web had just come online.

Now, the old Soviet Union is gone, replaced by a smaller but no less militaristic Russia. The human population has ballooned to 8.1 billion. The internet is a fixture in daily life. We also have a new, more powerful space telescope, the JWST.

But the Hubble keeps delivering, as this latest image shows.

The lenticular galaxy NGC 4753 is about 60 million light-years away. Lenticular galaxies are midway between elliptical and spiral galaxies. They have large-scale disks but only poorly defined spiral arms. NGC 4753 sees very little star formation because like other lenticulars, it’s used up most of its gas. The fact that they contain mostly older stars makes them similar to elliptical galaxies.

Among lenticulars, NGC 4753 is known for the dust lanes surrounding its nucleus. Astronomers think that spirals evolve into lenticulars in dense environments because they interact with other galaxies and with the intergalactic medium. However, NGC 4753 is in a low-density environment. Its environment and complex structure make it a target for astronomers to test their theories of galaxy formation and evolution.

This Hubble image is the sharpest ever taken of NGC 4753, revealing its intriguing complexity and highlighting the space telescope’s impressive resolving power.

Astronomers think that NGC 4753 is the result of a merger with a dwarf galaxy over one billion years ago. The dwarf galaxy was gas-rich, and NGC 4753’s distinct dust rings probably accreted from the merger. NGC 4753’s powerful gravity then shaped the gas into the complex shapes we see in this image. Image Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, L. Kelsey

NGC 4763’s unique structure results from a merger with a dwarf galaxy about 1.3 billion years ago. The video below from NOIRlab explains what happened.

NGC 4753 also hosts two known Type 1a supernovae, which are important because they help astronomers study the expansion of the Universe. They serve as standard candles, an important rung in the cosmic distance ladder.

Galaxies like NGC 4753 may not be rare, but the viewing angle plays a key role in identifying them. Our edge-on view of the galaxy makes its lenticular form clear. We could be seeing others like it from different angles that obscure its nature.

This is a model of NGC 4753, as seen from various viewing orientations. From left to right and top to bottom, the angle of the line of sight to the galaxy’s equatorial plane ranges from 10° to 90° in steps of 10°. Although galaxies similar to NGC 4753 may not be rare, only certain viewing orientations allow for easy identification of a highly twisted disk. This infographic is a recreation of Figure 7 from a 1992 research paper.

If we were looking at NGC 4753 from the “top” down, its detailed dust lanes wouldn’t be obvious to us. But fortunately, we are.

And so is the Hubble.

Evan Gough

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