NASA, ESA, S. Beckwith, The Hubble Heritage Team

Artist Biography:
The graceful, winding arms of the majestic spiral galaxy M51 (NGC 5194) appear like a grand spiral staircase sweeping through space. They are actually long lanes of stars and gas laced with dust. The sharpest-ever image, taken in January 2005 by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, illustrates a spiral galaxy's grand design, from its curving spiral arms, where young stars reside, to its yellowish central core, a home of older stars. The galaxy is nicknamed the Whirlpool because of its swirling structure...its two curving arms are star-formation factories, compressing hydrogen gas and creating clusters of new stars. In the Whirlpool, the assembly line begins with the dark clouds of gas on the inner edge, then moves to bright pink star-forming regions, and ends with the brilliant blue star clusters along the outer edge...At 31 million light-years away in the constellation Canes Venatici (the Hunting Dogs), the Whirlpool is a relatively nearby galaxy whose beautiful face-on view allows astronomers to study a classic spiral galaxy's structure and star-forming process.