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The core of the grand design spiral galaxy M100, as imaged by Hubble Space Telescope’s Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 in its high resolution channel. The WFPC-2 contains modified optics that correct for Hubble’s previously blurry vision, allowing the telescope for the first time to cleanly resolve faint structure as small as 30 light-years across in a galaxy which is tens of millions of light years away. The image was taken on December 31, 1993.
The galaxy M100 (100th object in the Messier Catalog of non-stellar objects) is one
of the brightest members of the Virgo Cluster of galaxies. The galaxy is in the spring constellation Coma Berenices and can be seen through a moderate-sized amateur
M100 is spiral shaped, like our Milky Way, and tilted nearly face-on as seen from earth. The galaxy has two prominent arms of bright stars and several fainter arms. Though the galaxy is estimated to be tens of millions of light-years away, Hubble reveals the sort of detail only seen previously (with ground based telescopes) in neighboring galaxies that are ten times closer.
Before HST, astronomers could only see such a level of detail in roughly a dozen galaxies in our Local Group. Now, with Hubble’s improved vision, the portion of the universe which can be studied with such clarity has grown a thousand fold. Only the future will tell what revelations await as Hubble’s spectacular vision is applied to a host of fascinating and important questions about the universe and our place in it.
Photo Credit: NASA