The Coma Galaxy cluster is home to a rich collection of galaxies in the nearby Universe. NGC 4921 is one of the rare spirals in Coma, and a rather unusual one. It looks “fluffy,” with lots of swirling dust. Astronomers say this galaxy is an “anemic spiral” where a small amount of star formation is taking place, and so less light is coming from the galaxy’s arms, as is usually seen in a spiral galaxy. This is an image from the Hubble Space Telescope, and with Hubble’s sharp vision, you can see a few bright young blue stars. But what’s really amazing, besides seeing the incredible detail of NGC 4921, is looking beyond the big fluffy galaxy and seeing how Hubble was able to pick up a marvelous collection of remote galaxies of all shapes, sizes and colors. Many have the spotty and ragged appearance of galaxies from the early Universe. Click here to get a bigger, better view.
This image was created from data obtained by Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys. The Coma galaxy cluster, is in the northern constellation of Coma Berenices. The cluster, also known as Abell 1656, is about 320 million light-years from Earth and contains more than 1000 members. The brightest galaxies, including NGC 4921, were discovered back in the late 18th century by William Herschel.
The galaxies in rich clusters undergo many interactions and mergers that tend to gradually turn gas-rich spirals into elliptical systems without much active star formation. As a result, there are far more ellipticals and fewer spirals in the Coma Cluster than are found in quieter corners of the Universe.
The Hubble images used to make this picture were originally obtained by a team led by Kem Cook (Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, California). The team used Hubble to search for Cepheid variable stars in NGC 4921 that could be used to measure the distance to the Coma cluster and hence the expansion rate of the Universe.
Unfortunately the failure of the Advanced Camera for Surveys in early 2007 meant that they had insufficient data to complete their original program, although they hope to continue after the servicing mission. Very deep imaging data like this, which is available to anyone from the Hubble archives, may also be used for other interesting scientific exploration of this galaxy and its surroundings.
The top image was created from 50 separate exposures with a yellow filter and another 30 exposures with a near-infrared filter using the Wide Field Channel of the Advanced Camera for Surveys on Hubble. The total exposure times were approximately 17 hours and 10 hours respectively.