Need a little face-on spiral awesomeness for your Monday morning? Then try this magnificent image of the nearby face-on spiral galaxy M33, aka the Triangulum Galaxy:
[Click to islanduniversalize, or go here to get the cosmic 7900 x 8000 pixel version.]
That not enough for ya? Then try this: Here’s a zoomable and pannable version!
This image is from Davide de Martin, who takes images from professional observatories, reprocesses them, and puts them on his Sky Factory website. M33 is a bit of an odd beast: it’s the second-closest spiral galaxy to our own — at about 3 million years away, it’s just a bit farther away than the Andromeda Galaxy — but it’s fainter than you might expect in the sky. That’s because it’s dinky, less than half the size of our Milky Way, and face-on, which means that small amount of light gets spread out, dimming it.
I’ve never seen it naked eye (Andromeda is actually pretty easy to spot from a dark site) but I’ve observed it many times with binoculars and a small telescope. Davide had a bit of an advantage though: this picture is from observations using the 4-meter Mayall telescope at Kitt Peak, a fine instrument indeed. The picture uses mostly "natural" color, adding together blue, green, and red-filtered images.
The Antennae Galaxies are probably the most famous and beautiful example of a cosmic traffic accident in the sky: two spiral galaxies undergoing a massive collision. Davide De Martin took the Hubble images of this pair and reprocessed them as part of his Sky Factory project:
Holy wow! These galaxies are very roughly 45 million light years away, which is relatively close. That means images from Hubble yield vast details. For example, the reddish-pink star-forming bursts, triggered by the collisions of huge dust and gas clouds, are obvious. Long streamers of visible-light-blocking dust can be seen, as well as many individual, massive and bright stars. The overall yellowish glow is from the collected light of tens of billions of stars like the Sun; too faint to be seen on their own, but adding up to provide the background for the more dynamic and dramatic goings-on.