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Friday, June 4, 1999 Published at 07:42 GMT 08:42 UK


Hubble snaps a stunning spiral

One of the sky's finest sights NGC 4414

By BBC News Online Science Editor Dr David Whitehouse

This new Hubble picture shows the magnificent spiral galaxy NGC 4414. Typical of most spirals, it contains chiefly older, yellow and red stars.

The outer spiral arms are considerably bluer due to the formation of young, blue stars, the brightest of which can be seen individually at the high resolution provided by the Hubble camera.

The arms are also very rich in clouds of interstellar dust, seen as dark patches and streaks silhouetted against the starlight.

NGC 4414 is 19.1 megaparsecs or about 60 million light-years distant. By accurately determining its distance along with other galaxies astronomers have recently come up with their best estimate yet for the size and age of the Universe.

Because of the large size of the galaxy compared to the Hubble detectors, only half of the galaxy was observed as part of the Hubble distance project.

So earlier this year the Hubble team revisited NGC 4414 and completed its portrait by observing the other half with the same filters as were used in 1995. The end result is a stunning full-colour look at the entire dusty spiral galaxy.

Images were obtained with Hubble's Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 through three different colour filters. Based on their discovery and careful brightness measurements of variable stars in NGC 4414 astronomers were able to make an accurate determination of the distance to the galaxy.

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