Hubble sees a galaxy festooned with stellar nurseries

NGC 4700 has many bright pinkish clouds where intense ultraviolet light from hot young stars causes hydrogen gas to glow.
By | Published: July 30, 2012 | Last updated on May 18, 2023
Credit: NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope
The galaxy NGC 4700 bears the signs of the vigorous birth of many new stars in this image captured by the NASA and European Space Agency’s Hubble Space Telescope.

The many bright pinkish clouds in NGC 4700 are known as H II regions, where intense ultraviolet light from hot young stars is causing nearby hydrogen gas to glow. H II regions often come part-and-parcel with the vast molecular clouds that spawn fresh stars, thus giving rise to the locally ionized gas.

In 1610, French astronomer Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc peered through a telescope and found what turned out to be the first H II region on record — the Orion Nebula (M42), located relatively close to the solar system in the Milky Way. Astronomers study these regions throughout our galaxy, and those easily seen in others, to gauge the chemical makeup of cosmic environments and their influence on the formation of stars.

NGC 4700 appears to be an edge-on galaxy. In March 1786, British astronomer William Herschel discovered this object and noted it as a very faint nebula. NGC 4700, along with many other relatively close galaxies, lies in the constellation Virgo the Maiden. It is a barred spiral galaxy, similar in structure to the Milky Way. NGC 4700 lies about 50 million light-years from us and is moving away at about 870 miles per second (1,400 kilometers per second) due to the universe’s expansion.