NGC 4314, the entire galaxy

 
NGC 4314, the entire galaxy

Image Credit: G. Fritz Benedict, Andrew Howell, Inger Jorgensen, David Chapell (University of Texas), Jeffery Kenney (Yale University), and Beverly J. Smith (CASA, University of Colorado), and NASA

NGC 4314 is a barred spiral galaxy that lies about 40 million light-years away from Earth in the northern constellation of Coma Berenices (Berenice’s Hair). It is receding from us at approximately 963 kilometers per second.

This galaxy has a bar running through it with a spiral arm attached at each end. It is a remarkably smooth galaxy, with not much star formation, a condition probably brought on by a collision with another galaxy. Collisions strip the combatants of almost all their gas and dust, leaving them mostly unable to form new stars.

However, what looks like another little spiral galaxy right in the center of NGC 4314 – complete with dust lanes and spiral arms – is actually a “nuclear starburst ring” with a radius of about 1,000 light-years of recently formed stars.

After the collision, a small amount of the gas probably fell back into the galaxies, enough to form this ring of bright young stars. Its bar has collected most of that material and delivered it to the nuclear ring and is processing this gas into stars.

There are at least 76 star clusters in the ring around NGC 4314’s nucleus which are between one million and 15 million years old – very young compared to the age of the galaxy, which is around 10 billion years. Most of the galaxy’s star formation occurs in these clusters, and the formation of new stars has been more or less continuous over the last 20 million years.

The image, taken in February 1996 by the 30-inch telescope Prime Focus Camera at the McDonald Observatory in Texas, shows the entire galaxy, including the bar of stars bisecting the core and the outer spiral arms, which begin near the ends of this bar.

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