Here are the 50 most spectacular galaxy pictures of all time -- from pictures of the Andromeda Galaxy to the pictures of the "Cosmic Tinker Bell Triplet," from pictures of colliding galaxies to the pictures of the Hubble Deep Fields -- these images are truly amazing! They are the best pictures of galaxies captured by some of the most powerful telescopes of NASA/ESA/ESO, etc. To improve page-load speeds, this collection of pictures is divided into 5 pages. Each page displays 10 pictures of galaxies along with their descriptions. Use the navigation pager near the bottom of each page to view all other pages. This is page 1 of the galaxy pictures collection. You can also view all the galaxy pictures along with their descriptions on a single page.
Apart from the visible light spectrum, instruments on NASA's and ESA's powerful telescopes can detect infrared rays, ultraviolet rays, X-rays, gamma rays, and other radiation emitted by stars, galaxies, nebulae, etc. The invisible spectrum of electromagnetic radiation can reveal features not seen in the visible light spectrum.
Since our eyes can only see the visible light spectrum, we have to use different colors to represent infrared, ultraviolet, X-ray and other radiation. This is how the so-called 'false-color' or 'color-coded' galaxy pictures are made. In the following images, you'll see both true-color and false-color (or color-coded) galaxy pictures.
The above picture shows a true-color view of the Andromeda Galaxy, as seen through a 24-inch (60 cm) Burrell Schmidt telescope of the Warner and Swasey Observatory. The two small, spherical objects near the galaxy are M32 (NGC 221) and M110 (NGC 205). They are small satellite galaxies of the Andromeda Galaxy.
On a dark, moonless, and cloudless night, the Andromeda Galaxy is sometimes visible to the naked eye as a faint, hazy patch in the direction of the Andromeda constellation. In the Northern Hemisphere, the best time to spot this galaxy is around the midnights of the autumn/fall season, especially during the months of October and November. It is a huge galaxy, containing an estimated 1,000,000,000,000 stars! However, without binoculars or a telescope it may merely look like a blurred, dim star with a misty patch surrounding it. On a very dark night, the faint haze can appear as long as the full moon, and about half as wide.
Located at an estimated distance of about 2.2 to 2.5 million light-years from the Earth, the Andromeda Galaxy is popularly considered to be the nearest large spiral galaxy to our own Milky Way Galaxy. But is it really the nearest galaxy to the Milky Way Galaxy? The answer is both yes and no, depending upon whether you want to ignore the fine print or not. The fine print is that the Milky Way Galaxy has a number of small satellite galaxies, which are actually much closer to it than the Andromeda Galaxy. A few examples of these satellite galaxies are the Canis Major Dwarf Galaxy, the Sagittarius Dwarf Elliptical Galaxy (SagDEG), the Large Magellanic Cloud, and the Small Magellanic Cloud.
What makes the Andromeda Galaxy unique is that it is the nearest 'non-satellite' and large spiral galaxy that can be considered an equal of the Milky Way Galaxy. It contains an estimated one trillion stars, and has an estimated length of about 200,000 to 260,000 light-years. In comparison, our Milky Way Galaxy is a barred spiral galaxy, which contains an estimated 200 to 400 billion stars, and has an estimated length of about 100,000 to 120,000 light-years. However, in spite of being smaller than the Andromeda Galaxy, the Milky Way Galaxy is thought to be slightly more massive, because it is thought to contain more dark matter than the former.
Another interesting fact about the Andromeda Galaxy is that it is moving toward us with a speed exceeding 112 kilometers (69 miles) per second. At such a breathtaking speed, we could travel from the Earth to the Moon in just one hour! However, the Andromeda Galaxy is so far from us that with its current speed it will take about 4 billion years to collide with the Milky Way Galaxy. Astronomers predict that when the two galaxies collide, they will eventually merge to form a single, huge elliptical galaxy. To know more about the fate of the two galaxies, you might want to watch this video. The process of galactic collisions and mergers can take billions of years. Astrophysicists can gain a better understanding of the process by observing other colliding galaxies, which could be in different stages of their galactic mergers.
The above picture shows an ultraviolet view of the Andromeda Galaxy, based on observations made by the Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX) telescope of NASA. It has been color-coded to represent ultraviolet light. Far-ultraviolet light is represented by blue color and near-ultraviolet light is represented by orange color. The blue-white bands visible in this picture represent those regions of the galaxy that harbor hot young massive stars. The darker, blue-gray lanes represent regions of cool interstellar dust. The orange-white bulge in the center of the galaxy represents a dense collection of relatively cooler and older stars that formed a long, long time ago.
The Sombrero Galaxy (Messier 104) is an unbarred spiral galaxy, but it is tilted almost edge-on toward the Earth, which makes it look like a sombrero (a type of a broad-brimmed Mexican hat). It has a diameter of about 50,000 light-years and its distance from the Earth is about 28 million light-years. It can be easily spotted in the direction of the Virgo constellation with the help of a small telescope. The above Hubble Space Telescope picture of the galaxy shows what it looks like when seen from our vantage point. It looks as if a disk or a ring of dust lanes is surrounding a bulbous central core.
The beautiful picture displayed above is a composite image of the Sombrero Galaxy, formed by combining its visible light spectrum and (color-coded) infrared light spectrum images, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope and the Spitzer Space Telescope, respectively. This picture reveals young star-forming regions in the clumpy areas present near the far edges of the galaxy. A supermassive black hole (as massive as one billion suns) is thought to be present in the center of the galaxy. Also see the previous picture for more information about this galaxy.
The Whirlpool Galaxy (M51 or NGC 5194) is a grand-design spiral galaxy located at a distance of about 31 million light-years from the Earth, in the direction of the Canes Venatici (the Hunting Dogs) constellation. It presents a face-on view, with its two prominent winding arms giving it a look of a swirling whirlpool. Its spiral arms are long lanes of gas and interstellar dust studded with stars and star-forming regions. This galaxy allows astronomers to study star-forming processes and the structure of a classical spiral galaxy.
The above picture of the galaxy was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope's Advanced Camera for Surveys. It shows pink, star-forming regions in the arms of the galaxy. These arms are factories of star-formation, and home to young and new-born stars. The yellowish central core contains older stars. The yellowish spherical object on the right side of the picture is a companion, interacting galaxy called NGC 5195. Its gravity creates waves or ripples, which compress the dust and gases in the arms of the Whirlpool Galaxy. This compression leads to the birth of new stars. Some of the largest stars explode as bright supernovae, while others emerge as bright blue star clusters from the mayhem, after intense stellar winds have swept away the obscuring dust.
Located about 21 million light-years away from the Earth toward the Ursa Major (Great Bear) constellation, the Pinwheel Galaxy (M101 or NGC 5457) is another face-on, 'grand design' spiral galaxy. It is a huge galaxy containing about a trillion stars. Its diameter is about 170,000 light-years, which is nearly 70% larger than that of our Milky Way Galaxy.
The above galaxy picture shows its spiral arms studded with clusters of newborn stars. These stars are formed when high density clouds of molecular hydrogen contract and collapse under their own gravitational force. Such waves of contractions are often triggered by the gravity of an interacting galaxy. Young and old stars are evenly distributed along the spiral arms of this galaxy.
The mayhem of a galactic collision is depicted by the above picture of the Cartwheel Galaxy (ESO 350-40). It is a lenticular galaxy (or an intermediate between an elliptical galaxy and a spiral galaxy) located about 500 million light-years away from the Earth in the direction of the Sculptor constellation. According to astronomers, a smaller galaxy (possibly one of the two objects on the left side of the picture) plunged right through its center. This happened about 100 million years ago. The complicated shape of the galaxy is thought to be the result of that collision. The collision created ripples in the Cartwheel Galaxy, just like a stone thrown in a pond creates ripples in it. An animation of a similar collision that has occurred in a different galaxy is shown in this video.
We can rather say that the collision created a cosmic tsunami, which expanded at 89.3 kilometers (55.5 miles) per second, and set off a firestorm of new star creation. The bright-blue outer ring visible in the above picture represents the first wave of the tsunami. This ring emits intense ultraviolet radiation, as countless stars having 5 to 20 solar-masses are forming in this region. They are clustered around super-massive star clusters. The X-rays indicate massive X-ray binary systems. The inner ring and nucleus of the galaxy are yellow-orange. These regions have much lesser star formation activity. The red specks are regions thought to contain high concentrations of organic molecules. Older, less-massive stars look greenish in color.
The above picture is a false-color composite image of the galaxy. The color-codes are as follows: Red represents infrared light detected by the Spitzer Space Telescope, green represents B-band visible light detected by the Hubble Space Telescope, blue represents far-ultraviolet radiation detected by the Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX), and purple represents X-rays detected by the Chandra X-ray Observatory.
The Centaurus-A Galaxy (NGC 5128 or Caldwell 77) is an active galaxy located about 12 million light-years away from the Earth in the Centaurus (Centaur) constellation of the Southern Hemisphere. An elliptical galaxy might have merged with a spiral galaxy to form this peculiar galaxy. A supermassive black hole having 100 million solar masses lies in its heart. Huge energy is released as matter falls in the black hole. Strong radio waves can be detected from the Earth. The above composite picture of the galaxy shows spectacular lobes and relativistic jets of high-energy particles shooting out from its center. Some of these powerful jets have half the speed of light, and they are thousands of light-years in length.
In the above picture, blue color represents X-ray data from the Chandra X-ray Observatory, and the orange color represents 870-micron submillimetre data from ESO's Atacama Pathfinder Experiment telescope. The visible-light data shows stars and dust-lanes of the galaxy. Clusters of young, blue stars are present along the edges of the dust lanes. The glow that fills the center of the picture comes from hundreds of billions of cooler and older stars. The X-ray emitting blue jets of plasma extend thousands of light-years from the center of the galaxy.
The Antennae Galaxies (NGC 4038/4039 or Caldwell 60/61) are two colliding galaxies located about 45 million light-years away from the Earth in the direction of the Corvus (Crow) constellation. When seen from ground-based telescopes, the galaxy pair looks like the head and antennae of an insect, because of two tidal tails that extend far from the cores. These galaxies are starburst galaxies i.e. they have an exceptionally high rate of new star formation triggered by the collision. Billions of new stars will be formed in these galaxies, as they go through their collision course.
The above Hubble Space Telescope picture of the galaxies shows bright, dense regions of star birth, called super star clusters. Each cluster contains tens of thousands of young stars. The cores of the original galaxies are visible as orange-yellow blobs on the lower left and upper right of the picture. These cores consist of the original, old stars of the two galaxies. The brown filaments consist of interstellar dust. Newly formed stars and star-forming regions appear bright, bluish-white. The pink areas are regions containing glowing hydrogen. Since this picture zooms at the cores of the galaxies, the tidal tails are not shown. It sort of looks like the lateral view of a human skull!
The above picture of interacting galaxies looks like an awesome cosmic-rose studded with shiny jewels! It shows Arp 273, a pair of interacting galaxies located about 300 million light-years away from the Earth in the direction of the Andromeda constellation. The larger spiral galaxy, UGC 1810, is tidally distorted into a rose-like shape by the gravity of the smaller galaxy, UGC 1813. The smaller galaxy looks like the stalk of the rose. The countless blueish dots in this picture are hot, young stars. The two galaxies are separated from each other by tens of thousands of light-years.