To celebrate the New Year - and to mark the formal debut of its online Image Gallery - the Gemini Observatory has released three striking new images.
Gemini North GMOS image of the “Fireworks Galaxy” NGC 6946 which straddles the boundries between the constellations of Cepheus and Cygnus.
The first, taken by the Gemini North telescope atop Mauna Kea on the big island of Hawaii, was made public on New Years Eve, 2004, and shows the face-on spiral galaxy NGC 6946 ablaze with galactic fireworks. Each explosion of pink is a region of active star formation, where the fierce light of newborn stars is exciting the surrounding hydrogen gas into incandescence. In addition, the fiercest and most massive of these stars have been burning themselves out and ending their lives in an even more spectacular fashion - by detonating in a string of cataclysmic, rapid-fire supernova explosions. Astronomers have observed eight supernovas in this one galaxy in the past 100 years, as opposed to just four in our own galaxy in the past 1000 years, and they suspect that the supernovas have been going off at that rate for tens of millions of years.
Indeed, for reasons that are still not clear, NGC 6946 is among the most prolific galaxies known for star birth and star death alike.
Micth Waldrop | EurekAlert!
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