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Whirlpool Galaxy

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Author Topic: Whirlpool Galaxy  (Read 123 times)
Majir
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« on: October 13, 2010, 03:20:25 pm »

Spiral structure
The very pronounced spiral structure of the Whirlpool Galaxy is believed to be the result of the close interaction between it and its companion galaxy NGC 5195.

[edit] Star formation
Induced spiral structure in the larger galaxy isn't the only effect of the interaction. Significant compression of hydrogen gas occurs that leads to the development of starbirth regions. In pictures of M51 these show up as the bright blue 'knots' throughout the spiral arms.

Generally speaking, hydrogen gas is the most common component of the interstellar medium (the vast space between stars and planetary systems in galaxies). It exists primarily in its atomic and molecular form, and forms huge clouds throughout the entire galaxy. When large sources of gravitational pull pass nearby, such as other galaxies, gravitational interactions produce compression (density) waves that sweep through these hydrogen clouds. This causes some regions of the previously diffuse gas to compress into tight pockets of opaque and dense gas, these are dust lanes one so often sees in the spiral arms. In regions where the concentration and density of gas reaches a critical value, further collapse under its own gravitational pull occurs, and stars are born at the center of the collapse, where the gas is compressed so strongly that fusion initiates.

When this happens, these new-born stars gobble up huge amounts of gas causing them to expand, shine even hotter, and finally sweep away the surrounding layers of dust and gas by increasing efflux of the stellar wind. The gigantic proportions of the clouds out of which they are born means stars seldom, if ever, are created in isolation. Thus regions of several hot young stars emit sufficient light energy that they can be seen in the high resolution pictures of M51 across millions of lightyears distance.

For an example of such a formation in our own galaxy, see M16, the Eagle Nebula.

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