A new image from the Hubble Space Telescope shows a deep view of the eye of a galactic needle.
The spiral galaxy is nicknamed “the eye of the needle”, although it is more officially known as NGC 247 and Caldwell 62. NASA said on May 10 that the nickname is appropriate given that this galaxy is a dwarf spiral, making it a relatively small group of stars compared to our own Milky Way.
The Hubble Space Telescope image depicts a hole on the other side of the galaxy, which NASA says intrigues astronomers. “There is a shortage of gas in this part of the galaxy, which means there is not much material from which new stars can form,” the agency wrote.
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“Since star formation stopped in this area, faint old stars populate the void. Scientists still don’t know how this strange feature formed, but studies suggest past gravitational interactions with another galaxy,” the agency added.
The hole is not the only mystery of this galaxy.
Beneath the galaxy disk, you can spit out a few smaller, distant galaxies beyond the Needle’s Eye marker of 11 million light-years, a distance relatively close to us in galactic terms. But finding out more about these distant galaxies is something astronomers are also trying to do.
“Bright red indicates areas of high density gas and dust, and robust star formation rather close to the edge of the galaxy,” NASA said. There is also a bright star in the foreground that is within the field of view.
At the heart of the galaxy is also a source of ultra-bright X-rays, but it is unknown where this came from.
“Are these stellar-mass black holes gorging on unusually large amounts of gas? Or are they long-sought “intermediate-mass” black holes dozens of times more massive than their stellar counterparts? but smaller than the monster black holes at the center of most galaxies?” asked NASA.
Independent studies of the galaxy using other forms of light, such as X-rays with NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, suggest that the X-rays originate from the disk of an intermediate-mass black hole. But more studies will be needed to decide for sure what’s going on.