NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, despite its age, is hard at work documenting the cosmos, and one of the images it has snapped showcases true cosmic beauty.
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The space agency’s iconic space telescope, which has been in operation for more than 30 years, has pointed its sensitive instruments at the spiral galaxy known as NGC 4654, which resides approximately 55 million light years away from Earth within the constellation Virgo. NASA writes in its official blog post that NGC 4654 features characteristics of both unbarred and barred spirals. Additionally, NGC 4654 is located slightly north of the celestial equator, meaning it is observable from both the northern and southern hemispheres.
The space agency explains that NGC 4654 is just one of many Virgo Cluster galaxies, and astronomers theorize that NGC 4654 may be currently undergoing a process called “RAM pressure stripping“. NASA writes that this process is a result of the gravitational pull of the Virgo Cluster putting pressure on NGC 4654 as it “moves through a superheated plasma made largely of hydrogen called the” intracluster medium.”“
“This pressure feels like a gust of wind – think of a biker feeling wind even on a still day – that strips NGC 4654 of its gas. This process produced a long, thin tail of hydrogen gas on the galaxy’s southeastern side. Most galaxies that experienced RAM pressure stripping hold very little cold gas, halting the galaxy’s ability to form new stars, since stars generate from dense gas. However, NGC 4654 has star formation rates consistent with other galaxies of its size,” writes NASA
“NGC 4654 also had an interaction with the companion galaxy NGC 4639 about 500 million years ago. The gravity of NGC 4639 stripped NGC 4654’s gas along its edge, limiting star formation in that region and causing the asymmetrical distribution of the galaxy’s stars,” added NASA