A face-on spiral in all its glory – and colours

Some 20 million light years away, galaxy NGC 3344 is a spectacular example of a face-on spiral galaxy, its brilliant core and spiral arms giving it the appearance of a cosmic pinwheel. The Hubble Space Telescope captured this composite image with its Wide Field Camera 3 using ultraviolet, optical and near-infrared filters to reveal more detail than the human eye could see.

Hot young stars shining in the galaxy’s spiral arms show up as brilliant blue while clouds of gas and dust that provide the raw material for new stars appear as glowing red concentrations. The bright stars to the left of the core displaying cross-like diffraction spikes are members of the Milky Way that are in the foreground.

“While its face-on orientation reveals much about NGC 3344’s detailed structure, this galaxy is still enigmatic; astronomers have noticed that some of its outer stars are moving in a strange way,” the European Space Agency says in a release. “Often, the high concentration of stars in the centre of a galaxy can affect the movements of the outer stars, but this does not seem to be the case in NGC 3344. Astronomers suspect that these weirdly behaving outer stars may actually have been stolen from another galaxy, after a close encounter that took place long ago.”

Galaxy NGC 3344 appears face on in this spectacular composite image from the Hubble Space Telescope. Image: ESA/Hubble, NASA