Astronomers using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope have captured a striking photo of a section of the spiral galaxy NGC 247.
NGC 247 is located approximately 11.5 million light-years from Earth in the southern constellation of Cetus.
Otherwise known as the Needle’s Eye, the Claw Galaxy, Caldwell 62, ESO 540-22, LEDA 2758 and UGCA 11, this galaxy is a member of the Sculptor Group, a collection of galaxies that also contains the famous Sculptor Galaxy (NGC 253).
“The Needle’s Eye was given its nickname because one end of it features a strange void of stars (not seen in this image),” Hubble astronomers explained.
“This image zooms into the very edge of the galaxy, on the opposite side of the void.”
Below the edge of the galaxy’s disk, smaller and more distant galaxies are visible, as well as a very bright foreground star that lies between us and NGC 247.
“Bright red indicates areas of high-density gas and dust, and robust star formation rather close to the edge of NGC 247,” the researchers said.
“The ‘hole’ in NGC 247 on the other side of the galaxy is a big mystery,” they added.
“There is a shortage of gas in that part of the galaxy, which means there isn’t much material from which new stars can form.”
“Since star formation has halted in this area, old, faint stars populate the void.”
“We still don’t know how this strange feature formed, but studies hint toward past gravitational interactions with another galaxy,” they said.
NGC 247 is also home to an object known as an ultraluminous X-ray source.
“Astronomers have long debated the nature of these super-bright X-ray sources,” the scientists said.
“Are they stellar-mass black holes gorging on unusually large amounts of gas?”
“Or are they long-sought intermediate-mass black holes, dozens of times more massive than their stellar counterparts but smaller than the monster black holes in the centers of most galaxies?”
“By studying NGC 247 in multiple forms of light, astronomers have found signs that the X-rays are coming from a disk around an intermediate-mass black hole.”
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