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Dramatically Backlit Dust Lanes in NGC 7049
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Name: NGC 7049
Description: Irregular Galaxy
Position (J2000): RA 21hr 19m 00.249s Dec -48° 33' 43.24"
Constellation: Indus
Distance: 100 million light years
Image Credit: NASA, ESA and W. Harris (McMaster University)
Release date: April 7, 2009
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A new Hubble image highlights striking swirling dust lanes and glittering globular clusters in oddball galaxy NGC 7049.

The NASA/ESA's Hubble Space Telescope has captured this image of NGC 7049, a mysterious looking galaxy on the border between spiral and elliptical galaxies. NGC 7049 is found in the constellation of Indus, and is the brightest of a cluster of galaxies, a so-called Brightest Cluster Galaxy (BCG). Typical BCGs are some of the oldest and most massive galaxies. They provide excellent opportunities for astronomers to study the elusive globular clusters lurking within.

The globular clusters in NGC 7049 are seen as the sprinkling of small faint points of light in the galaxy's halo. The halo - the ghostly region of diffuse light surrounding the galaxy - is composed of myriads of individual stars and provides a luminous background to the remarkable swirling ring of dust lanes surrounding NGC 7049's core. Globular clusters are very dense and compact groupings of a few hundreds of thousands of stars bound together by gravity. They contain some of the first stars to be produced in a galaxy. NGC 7049 has far fewer such clusters than other similar giant galaxies in very big, rich groups. This indicates to astronomers how the surrounding environment influenced the formation of galaxy halos in the early Universe.

The constellation of Indus, or the Indian, is one of the least conspicuous in the southern sky. It was named in the 16th century by Dutch astronomer Petrus Plancius from observations made by Dutch navigator Pieter Dirkszoon Keyser and Dutch explorer Frederick de Houtman.

The image was taken by the Advanced Camera for Surveys on Hubble, which is optimized to hunt for galaxies and galaxy clusters in the remote and ancient Universe, at a time when our cosmos was very young.

From Wikipedia:

NGC 7049 is a galaxy that spans about 150 000 light-years and lies about 100 million light-years away from Earth in the inconspicuous southern constellation of Indus.

NGC 7049's unusual appearance is largely due to a prominent rope-like dust ring which stands out against the starlight behind it. These dust lanes are usually seen in young galaxies with active star-forming regions. NGC 7049 shows the features of both an elliptical galaxy and a spiral galaxy, and has relatively few globular clusters.The bright star at the top of the ring is in our own Galaxy. Not visible is an unusual central polar ring of gas circling out of the plane near the galaxy's center. NGC 7049 is the brightest (BCG) of the Indus triplet of galaxies (NGC 7029, NGC 7041, NGC 7049), and its structure might have arisen from several recent galaxy collisions. Typical BCGs are some of the oldest and most massive galaxies.