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M101: A Pinwheel in Many Colors

  • A new composite of M101 (aka, the "Pinwheel Galaxy") contains data from four of NASA's telescopes in space.

  • X-rays from Chandra (purple) show the hottest and most energetic areas of this spiral galaxy.

  • Infrared data from Spitzer (red) and optical emission from Hubble (yellow) trace the dust and starlight respectively.

  • Ultraviolet light from GALEX (blue) shows the output from young stars.

This image of the Pinwheel Galaxy, or also known as M101, combines data in the infrared, visible, ultraviolet and X-rays from four of NASA's space-based telescopes. This multi-spectral view shows that both young and old stars are evenly distributed along M101's tightly-wound spiral arms. Such composite images allow astronomers to see how features in one part of the spectrum match up with those seen in other parts. It is like seeing with a regular camera, an ultraviolet camera, night-vision goggles and X-ray vision, all at the same time.

The Pinwheel Galaxy is in the constellation of Ursa Major (also known as the Big Dipper). It is about 70% larger than our own Milky Way Galaxy, with a diameter of about 170,000 light years, and sits at a distance of 21 million light years from Earth. This means that the light we're seeing in this image left the Pinwheel Galaxy about 21 million years ago - many millions of years before humans ever walked the Earth.

The hottest and most energetic areas in this composite image are shown in purple, where the Chandra X-ray Observatory observed the X-ray emission from exploded stars, million-degree gas, and material colliding around black holes.

The red colors in the image show infrared light, as seen by the Spitzer Space Telescope. These areas show the heat emitted by dusty lanes in the galaxy, where stars are forming.

The yellow component is visible light, observed by the Hubble Space Telescope. Most of this light comes from stars, and they trace the same spiral structure as the dust lanes seen in the infrared.

The blue areas are ultraviolet light, given out by hot, young stars that formed about 1 million years ago, captured by the Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX).

Fast Facts for M101:
Credit  X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO; IR & UV: NASA/JPL-Caltech; Optical: NASA/STScI
Release Date  May 24, 2012
Scale  Image is 16.8 arcmin across
Category  Normal Galaxies & Starburst Galaxies
Coordinates (J2000)  RA 14h 03m 12.59s | Dec +54° 20´ 56.70"
Constellation  Ursa Major
Observation Date  03/26/2000 - 01/01/2005 with 26 pointings
Observation Time  274 hours (11 days 10 hours)
Obs. ID  934, 2065, 4731-4737, 5296-5297, 5300, 5309, 5322-5323, 5337-5340, 6114-6115, 6118, 6152, 6169-6170, 6175
Instrument  ACIS
Also Known As NGC 5457, The Pinwheel Galaxy
Color Code  X-ray (Purple); Infrared (Red); Optical (Yellow); Ultraviolet (Blue)
Distance Estimate  About 21 million light years
distance arrow
Visitor Comments (11)

looks like a duck wearing a jester's hat.

Posted by goofball7 on Saturday, 10.3.15 @ 00:07am

The Pinwheel Galaxy looks like it spins in a counter-clockwise motion.

Posted by Sherry G on Tuesday, 07.7.15 @ 17:49pm

So it might not even be there anymore.

Posted by Carol on Saturday, 01.18.14 @ 13:32pm

How can we see the UV light from stars that were created one million years ago, when the galaxy is 25 million light years?

Posted by charlie brown on Monday, 11.25.13 @ 13:39pm

It is amazing how big it is out there, we are a grain of sand in the universe. Excellent images. Thanks for sharing them.

Posted by Manuel Uribe on Friday, 09.7.12 @ 15:27pm

It is amazingly wonderful!

Posted by fatima lucero on Monday, 08.20.12 @ 07:28am

It's beautiful!great!

Posted by lisamails on Friday, 08.17.12 @ 04:39am

Thank you very much for these fabulous photo album.


Kirsten Lütthans

Posted by Kirsten Lütthans on Friday, 08.10.12 @ 10:03am

Wow so cool guuuuyyzzzzzzz

Posted by latondra on Tuesday, 06.5.12 @ 10:26am

Interesting that the younger stars are in the arms of the galaxy.

Posted by Steve Dixon on Saturday, 05.26.12 @ 08:52am

It looks great!!!!!

Posted by Ankit on Friday, 05.25.12 @ 11:19am

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