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XMM-Newton's view of Messier 82 (optical/UV)

Date: 08 April 2009
Satellite: XMM-Newton
Depicts: M82
Copyright: ESA

To celebrate the International Year of Astronomy, and as part of the 100 Hours of Astronomy cornerstone project, the European Space Agency  released a magnificent image of the starburst galaxy Messier 82 (M82) obtained with the XMM-Newton observatory (see "Messier 82 with XMM-Newton (poster)" ). This element of the image shows bright knots in the plane of the galaxy, indicating a region of intense star formation.

M82 is located 12 million light years from us, in the Ursa Major constellation. It is the prototypical, and closest, starburst galaxy. In this type of galaxy the rate of star formation, and death, is about 10 times more than in our Galaxy, the Milky Way. The XMM-Newton optical and ultraviolet view of M82 shows the bright plane of the galaxy and clearly depicts a region of intense star formation. The massive stars that are formed here evolve very quickly and explode as supernovae. Winds from these supernova explosions make their way through the dust in the disk of the galaxy and emerge as plumes of million degree gas glowing in X-rays (see "Messier 82 with XMM-Newton (poster)" and "Messier 82 with XMM-Newton (X-ray)"). Astronomers believe that the burst of star formation in M82 was triggered about 100 million years ago during a close encounter with a neighbouring galaxy, M81.

A dedicated observation of M82 was made with XMM-Newton on 3 April 2009 during the 100 Hours of Astronomy. This, combined with previous observations, gave a total of 52.5 hours of XMM-Newton time for M82, and produced this special, celebration image.

XMM-Newton simultaneously collects data in different X-ray energy bands, and at optical and ultraviolet wavelengths. To create this image false colours are used to distinguish emission in different wavelengths. The optical-ultraviolet image is constructed from images obtained with three optical/ultraviolet filters (V+B, U+UVW1 and UVM2+UVW2.)

Editor's note: A small artefact appears in this image. The small “smoke ring” near the bright star below the galaxy disk is a known effect due to light being scattered within the optical monitor detector window.


Last Update: 13 October 2011
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