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03.16.06

Visible Light Image of Messier 82

The visible-light picture of the Cigar galaxy, also called Messier 82, shows only a bar of light against a dark patch of space. Longer exposures of the galaxy (not pictured here) have revealed cone-shaped clouds of hot gas above and below the galaxy's plane. Messier 82 is located about 12 million light-years away in the Ursa Major constellation. It is viewed from its side, or edge on, so it appears as a thin cigar-shaped bar. The galaxy is termed a starburst because its core is a fiery hotbed of stellar birth. A larger nearby galaxy, called Messier 81, is gravitationally interacting with Messier 82, prodding it into producing the new stars.The visible-light picture is from the National Optical Astronomy Observatory, Tucson, Ariz.