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💫M82 and M81

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The spiral galaxy M81 and the neighbour galaxy M82 are forming a physical pair. A few tens of million years ago, the smaller M82 collided with M81. This gravitational interaction deformed M82 and caused its concentrated burst of star formation. Throughout the central region of Messier 82, young stars are being born 10 times faster than they are inside in our Milky Way Galaxy. These numerous hot new stars emit not only radiation but also particles called a stellar wind. Stellar winds streaming from these hot new stars also have combined to form a fierce galactic superwind. This superwind compresses enough gas to make millions more stars and blasts out towering plumes of hot ionised hydrogen gas, above and below the disk of the galaxy (seen in red in the image). In M82 young stars are crammed into tiny but massive star clusters which themselves then congregate by the dozen to make the bright patches or "starburst clumps" seen in the central parts of M82.


The individual clusters in the clumps can only be distinguished in the ultra-sharp Hubble images. Most of the pale objects sprinkled around the main body of M82 that look like fuzzy stars are actually star clusters about 20 light-years across and containing up to a million stars. The rapid rate of star formation in this galaxy will eventually be self-limiting. When star formation becomes too vigorous, it will destroy the material needed to make more stars and the starburst will subside, probably in a few tens of millions of years. Located 12 million light-years away, M82 appears high in the northern spring sky in the direction of the constellation Ursa Major, the Great Bear. It is also called the "Cigar Galaxy" because of the elongated elliptical shape produced by the tilt of its starry disk relative to our line of sight.

Credit: ESA / Hubble and Digitized Sky Survey 2. Acknowledgements: Davide De Martin (ESA / Hubble)


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