The Dark Energy Camera (DECam) on the Víctor M. Blanco 4-m telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory has produced a spectacularly detailed image of the barred spiral galaxy Messier 83.
Messier 83 resides about 15 million light-years away in the southern constellation of Hydra.
Discovered in 1752, this galaxy is oriented so that it is almost entirely face-on as seen from Earth, meaning that astronomers can observe its spiral structure in fantastic detail.
Also known as M83, the Southern Pinwheel Galaxy or NGC 5236, it has a diameter of around 50,000 light-years, so it is a little diminutive in comparison to our own Milky Way.
Messier 83 is a prominent member of a group of galaxies known as the Centaurus A/M83 Group, which also counts the dusty NGC 5128 and the irregular galaxy NGC 5253 as members.
To create a spectacular new view of the galaxy, Dr. Monika Soraisam from the University of Illinois and colleagues used six different filters on DECam.
Filters allow astronomers to select which wavelengths of light they wish to view the sky in. This is crucial for science observations, when astronomers require very specific information about an object, but it also allows colorful images like this one to be created.
Observing celestial objects with several different filters means that different details can be picked out.
For example, the dark tendrils curling through Messier 83 are actually lanes of dust, blocking out light.
In contrast, the clustered, bright red spots are caused by glowing, hot hydrogen gas, which identifies these as hubs of star formation.
Dusty trails and dynamic ionized gas have different temperatures, and are therefore visible in different wavelengths.
Filters allow both to be observed separately, and then combined into one intricate image.
In all, 163 DECam exposures, with a total combined exposure time of over 11.3 hours, went into creating this portrait of Messier 83.
“The Messier 83 observations are part of an ongoing program to produce an atlas of time-varying phenomena in nearby southern galaxies in preparation for Rubin Observatory’s Legacy Survey of Space and Time,” Dr. Soraisam said.