Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2023 August 29
Spiral galaxy M66 is shown in infrared light as seen by the
orbiting James Webb Space Telescope. A reddish-brown center is
seen in the galaxy with a blue-colored spiral arms surrounding it.
A close inspection will reveal that these spiral arms are not
Please see the explanation for more detailed information.

Unusual Spiral Galaxy M66 from Webb
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, JWST; Processing: Brian Tomlinson

Explanation: Why isn't spiral galaxy M66 symmetric? Usually, density waves of gas, dust, and newly formed stars circle a spiral galaxy's center and create a nearly symmetric galaxy. The differences between M66's spiral arms and the apparent displacement of its nucleus are all likely caused by previous close interactions and the tidal gravitational pulls of nearby galaxy neighbors M65 and NGC 3628. The galaxy, featured here in infrared light taken by the James Webb Space Telescope, spans about 100,000 light years, lies about 35 million light years distant, and is the largest galaxy in a group known as the Leo Triplet. Like many spiral galaxies, the long and intricate dust lanes of M66 are seen intertwined with the bright stars and intergalactic dust that follow the spiral arms.

Tomorrow's picture: open space

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