On December 6, 2019, NASA released this Hubble Space Telescope image of galaxy NGC 5468 – located in the constellation Virgo, just over 130 million light-years away – showing the galaxy’s loose, open spiral pattern in beautiful detail.
NASA said in a statement about this image:
Some of the most dramatic events in the universe occur when certain stars die — and explode catastrophically in the process.
Such explosions, known as supernovae, mainly occur in a couple of ways. In one scenario, a massive star depletes its fuel at the end of its life, becoming dynamically unstable and unable to support its bulk, causing it to collapse inward and violently explode. In another outcome, a white dwarf (the dense remnant of a once-normal star) in an orbiting stellar couple siphons more mass off its companion than it is able to support, igniting runaway nuclear fusion in its core and beginning the supernova process. Both types result in an intensely bright object in the sky that can rival the light of a whole galaxy.
In the last 20 years, galaxy NGC 5468 hosted a number of observed supernovae of both the aforementioned types: SN 1999cp, SN 2002cr, SN2002ed, SN2005P and SN2018dfg. The orientation of the galaxy with respect to us – we see NGC 5468 face on – makes it easier to spot these “new stars” as they appear.
Bottom line: New Hubble image of spiral galaxy NGC 5468.
Eleanor Imster has helped write and edit EarthSky since 1995. She was an integral part of the award-winning EarthSky radio series almost since it began until it ended in 2013. Today, as Lead Editor at EarthSky.org, she helps present the science and nature stories and photos you enjoy. She also serves as one of the voices of EarthSky on social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter and G+. She and her husband live in Tennessee and have two grown sons.