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Thursday, January 14, 1999 Published at 14:05 GMT


Pick a galaxy

Close-up of the dust ring that girdles galaxy NGC 4565

By BBC News Online Science Editor Dr David Whitehouse

Anyone can vote for the Hubble Space Telescope to point at a galaxy of their choice, thanks to an initiative by the Hubble Heritage Project.

Until February 14, anyone can visit the project's Web site and vote to have the telescope pointed at one of three galaxies. The HST will observe the winning one in April.

It is not the first time that the public has played a role in pointing the telescope. From the beginning of Hubble's observations amateur astronomers have submitted proposals to NASA.

Some of the suggested observations were carried out but eventually the project became too costly.

[ image: NGC 4650A]
NGC 4650A
Now however, if you visit the webpage you have the choice of three galaxies; NGC 4650A, a classic so-called polar-ring galaxy; NGC 3697; and NGC 4565, also known as the needle galaxy.

So far the voting has been a success. A few thousand people cast their votes within the first few of days. But astronomers have declined to reveal which galaxy is in the lead.

Begun two years ago the Hubble Heritage Project emphasises compelling HST images.

The project will mine the rich HST public archive of exposures that has been accumulating for almost a decade.

[ image: NGC 3697 - an edge-on galaxy]
NGC 3697 - an edge-on galaxy
Since HST is a research instrument, many of the skies most visually stunning objects have never been looked at.

Fortunately, the Hubble Heritage Project has been granted a small amount of observing time over the next year. It is enough to satisfy the dual purpose of obtaining scientifically useful data and generating visually stunning images.

For the Spring 1999 Hubble Heritage observations the team have selected 3 edge-on galaxies. They want you to tell them which of these galaxies you think the Hubble Space Telescope should observe.

[ image: Seen from the side - NGC 4565]
Seen from the side - NGC 4565
This view of NGC 4650A was taken with the European Southern Observatory's new 8-meter diameter Very Large Telescope. The stubby brighter object in the center is the original galaxy, whose structure is barely discerned in ground-based images.

This image of NGC 3697 was also taken with a ground-based telescope.

Seen in it are subtle hints at the complex structure of dust lanes and star-forming clumps that would be revealed in pictures taken with the Hubble Space Telescope.

This image of NGC 4565 shows a bright and very large spiral with a magnificent central bulge that is partially obscured by dust and material residing in the spiral arms that are along our line of sight.

Our own Milky Way Galaxy might appear like this when viewed from the side.

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