Science

The Hubble Telescope maps a spiral galaxy to map the expansion of our universe

The spiral galaxy Mrk (Markarian) 1337, according to the image of the Hubble Space Telescope. (Image credit: ESA / Hubble & NASA, A. Riess et al.)

The Hubble Space Telescope has captured an impressive spiral galaxy in a broader quest to map the rate of expansion of our universe.

The new image of the spiral galaxy Mrk (Markarian) 1337 shows its bright stars shining approximately 120 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Virgo. The Hubble Space Telescope prioritized ultraviolet and infrared (heat seeking) wavelengths in this image, rendered in false color.

Studying distant galaxies like this one helps astronomers gain more perspective on the structure of our galaxy, the Milky Way, especially if it is of the same type. “Mrk 1337 is a weakly barred spiral galaxy, which as the name suggests means that the spiral arms radiate from a central bar of gas and stars,” wrote representatives of the European Space Agency in a statement about the image.

Related: Best Hubble Space Telescope Images Ever!

However, more broadly, the image emerged as part of a campaign to find out how fast the universe is expanding. The effort is led by Adam Riess, a professor of physics and astronomy at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, who shared the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics for showing that the universe accelerates as it expands.

Riess hopes to refine the acceleration rate because the universe is expanding faster than expected, and in 2019 he suggested that we might need new physics to really solve the problem of what is being observed compared to what the models predict.

“This mismatch has been increasing and has now reached a point that is really impossible to dismiss as fluke,” Riess said in a statement at the time.

More recently, he has added that disputes over the “Hubble constant” of the expansion of the universe point to subtleties that we must understand in dark energy, dark matter, and dark radiation, all invisible forces that influence the rate of expansion.

One way to measure the constant is to plot the rate of expansion between large objects such as galaxies. Given that the Hubble telescope was key to the 2011 Nobel Prize, it’s no wonder astronomers are turning to it again as they seek to refine the rate.

Hubble has struggled for several weeks to recover from a timing error on October 23, but there is a lot of data like this to process as engineers slowly bring their instruments back online. Hubble launched in 1990 and was last serviced by astronauts in 2009, shortly before the space shuttle retired and the telescope became inaccessible.

Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or on Facebook.

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