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Hubble hails the 4th with galactic fireworks

Image: Kiso 5639
The tadpole galaxy Kiso 5639, also known as LEDA 36252, sparkles in this Hubble image. (Credit: D. Elmegreen et al. / Vassar / NASA / ESA)

Kiso 5639 is just a tadpole when it comes to galaxies, but it’s a real firecracker in a picture unveiled by the Hubble Space Telescope’s science team just in time for the Fourth of July.

Today’s image emphasizes the galaxy’s blazing head and its long, star-studded tail in shades of red, purple and blue that’d be well-suited for a fireworks display. The colors represent the different wavelengths that were picked up by Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 and UVIS imager during viewing opportunities in February and July of 2015. (A version of the picture released by the European Space Agency’s Hubble team isn’t quite as colorful.)

KIso 5639, which lies 82 million light-years away in the northern constellation Ursa Major, is an elongated type of galaxy known as a tadpole. The tadpole’s bright head marks a frenzy of starbirth, thought to be sparked by intergalactic gas that’s raining down on one end of the galaxy as it drifts through space. About 10 percent of all galaxies in the early universe are tadpoles, but few such galaxies have been seen nearby.

“I think Kiso 5639 is a beautiful, up-close example of what must have been common long ago,” Vassar College astronomer Debra Elmegreen said in today’s news release. “The current thinking is that galaxies in the early universe grow from accreting gas from the surrounding neighborhood. It’s a stage that galaxies, including our Milky Way, must go through as they are growing up.”

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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