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Monday, March 23, 1998 Published at 17:01 GMT


Hubble sees starbirth
image: [ Central region of Galaxy NGC 1808 ]
Central region of Galaxy NGC 1808

The Hubble Space Telescope, with a clear view of the cosmos from its orbit above the Earth's turbulent and distorting atmosphere, has once again produced images of the universe of outstanding clarity and beauty.

Using its wide field camera it has peered deep into the heart of a nearby galaxy and witnessed a dramatic flurry of stars being born out of vast clouds of gas and dust.

The galaxy, called NGC 1808, is 40 million light years distant - close in astronomical terms. It is a collection of a hundred thousand million stars. It is colliding with a companion galaxy which is not shown in the image.

The collision sends shock waves rippling through the two galaxies that triggers clouds of gas into forming thousands of stars. In the image the clusters of new stars appear blue. Astronomers believe that there are over 1,000 such starburst clusters.

Some of the stars are short lived and last only a million years or so. They then explode in a violent explosion called a supernova. These explosions eject clouds of gas and filaments of dust that makes the heart of NGC 1808 a violent and chaotic place.

[ image: Hubble in Earth orbit]
Hubble in Earth orbit
The image taken by the Hubble Telescope shows star clusters amid thick lanes of gas and dust. The image shows a region 300 light years across, a light year is 6 million million miles. Such observations help astronomers to understand how our own Sun was born from similar clouds some five billion years ago.

The observations of NCG 1808 were partly carried out by amateur astronomers who had the chance to use the Hubble Telescope.


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