Hubble Sees Stunning Spiral Galaxy: IC 438

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Astronomers using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope have captured a detailed image of a spectacular part of IC 438, a spiral galaxy located in the constellation of Lepus.

This Hubble image shows IC 438, a spiral galaxy some 130 million light-years away in the constellation of Lepus. The color image was made from separate exposures taken in the visible and near-infrared regions of the spectrum with Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3). It is based on data obtained through two filters. The color results from assigning different hues to each monochromatic image associated with an individual filter. Image credit: NASA / ESA / Hubble / R.J. Foley, UC Santa Cruz.

IC 438 resides approximately 130 million light-years away in the constellation of Lepus.

“Lepus lies just south of the celestial equator (the ring around the middle of Earth that falls at right angles to its rotation axis),” the Hubble astronomers said.

“Appropriately, Lepus is flanked by the constellations Canis Major (the Greater Dog) and Orion (the Hunter), whilst Canis Minor (the Lesser Dog) lies very nearby, meaning that in artistic representations of the constellations, Lepus is often shown as being pursued by Orion and his two hunting dogs.”

“Lepus is one of the 88 constellations that are officially recognized by the International Astronomical Union (IAU).”

“It is worth clarifying that, whilst the actual constellations themselves only comprise a handful of stars, the area of sky covered by those stars is often referred to using the name of the constellation.”

“For example, when we say that IC 438 is in Lepus, we do not mean that the galaxy is part of the constellation — perhaps obviously, as it is not a single star, but an entire galaxy!”

“Rather, we mean that it falls in the region of sky covered by the Lepus constellation stars.”

“The IAU’s 88 official constellations are by no means the only constellations ever described by humanity,” they said.

“Humans have been studying and naming the stars for a very long time, and different cultures of course have their own constellations.”

“The IAU constellations are Eurocentric, with many taken from Ptolemy’s list of constellations.”

“Collectively, the 88 constellations divide the night sky into 88 regions which completely cover it, so that the approximate location of any celestial object can be described using one of the 88.”

IC 438 was discovered on January 7, 1891 by the American astronomer Lewis Swift.

Otherwise known as ESO 555-9, IRAS 05508-1753 or LEDA 18047, this spiral galaxy has a diameter of 115,000 light-years.

IC 438 forms a gravitationally bound pair with the dwarf galaxy IC 2151, and is a main member of the IC 438 galaxy group (also known as LGG 134).

“The impetus behind Hubble examining this galaxy was the Type Iax supernova SN 2017gbb that took place in 2017, a kind of supernova that arises from a binary system of two stars,” the astronomers said.

“While these data were obtained over three years after the supernova occurred, and so it’s not visible in this image, there’s still a lot to learn from studying the aftermath of supernovae like this one.”

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