Amidst Pluto images, take a breath to admire the beauty of the sunflower galaxy Messier 63 (M63), in a more recent capture by NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.
What triggered the galaxy’s ‘scene name’ is the arrangement in a spiral pattern observed in the galaxy’s spiral arms. The patchy artwork, signed the Universe and nature isn’t brought to the front for the first time. Other images have been retrieved from the Hubble Space Telescope, depicting the sunflower galaxy Messier 63.
And long before Hubble or Spitzer, Pierre Mechain noted down for posterity that this galaxy exists in 1779. Afterwards, the sunflower galaxy was mentioned by Charles Messier, French astronomer as the 63rd entry in his catalogue published in 1781.
Messier 63 is still where the two astronomers found the sunflower galaxy. Located in the Canes Venatici constellation, it lies not too far from Earth. Only 27 million light years separate us from Messier 63. And if by itself it isn’t sufficient to marvel at, take a look at the other galaxies around it, all part of the M51 group. M51 takes its name after the brightest galaxy here, Messier 51, also a spiral galaxy coined as the Whirlpool Galaxy.
In more scientific terms, Messier 63 is termed a flocculent galaxy. This means that its seemingly patchy spiral arms look as if they’re wrapped in cotton. The processes that result in this appearance are not fully understood just yet.
One theory is that as differential rotation occurring within the galaxy’s arms is causing the gas clouds to stretch and thus appear as patchy smears on the lighted canvas. Another theory posits that as star formation beings in the very disk of Messier 63, other stars are forming around it and further on until the spiral arms end. In the Milky Way for instance, star formation is not localized, the arms themselves triggering the process.
If you look further into Messier 63, you might happen to stumble upon images which depict in a redder hue than the Hubble Space Telescope image. These are images captured by Spitzer, which is designed to detect infrared wavelengths from warm objects. So the large gas clouds appear in an intense shade of red as they are heated by the stars they blanket.
And if you wish to look for other flocculent galaxies like the sunflower galaxy Messier 63, look no further than NGC 1398, NGC 3521, or NGC 2841.
Photo Credits: Flickr