The Whirlpool Galaxy, also known as Messier 51 or M51, is familiar to legions of amateur astronomers, a face on spiral gravitationally interacting with a smaller nearby galaxy. On clear, moonless nights, M51’s spiral shape can be discerned in relatively modest amateur instruments, a dim, ghostly body near the bright star Alkaid at the end of the Big Dipper’s handle. But through the Hubble Space Telescope, M51 is revealed in all of its jaw dropping splendour, a magnificent swirl of tightly-wound spiral arms, glowing regions of star formation and countless clusters. Gravitational interactions with the companion galaxy, not seen in this image of the Whirlpool’s heart, trigger star formation across M51 as seen here in bright clusters of energetic young stars highlighted in red. Also visible are numerous dust “spurs” extending away from the spiral arms in near perpendicular fashion. The origin and evolution of the spurs are not yet understood.
For the first time astronomers were able to analyse the atmosphere of a super-Earth exoplanet. Using data gathered with the Hubble Space Telescope and new analysis techniques, the exoplanet 55 Cancri e some 40 light-years away is revealed to have an atmosphere consists mainly of hydrogen and helium without any indications of water vapour.
A fossilised remnant of the early Milky Way harbouring stars of hugely different ages has been revealed by an international team of astronomers. Terzan 5 resembles a globular cluster, but is unlike any other cluster known. It contains stars remarkably similar to the most ancient stars in the Milky Way and bridges the gap in understanding between our galaxy’s past and its present.
Haumea, a dwarf planet on the edge of our solar system, doesn’t have the same kind of moons as its well-known cousin Pluto according to a new study. This is despite original evidence that suggested they both formed in similar giant impacts and adds to the mystery shrouding how these icy bodies formed.