This magnificent image of the starburst galaxy Messier 82 (M82) obtained with the XMM-Newton observatory was released in order to celebrate the International Year of Astronomy, and as part of the 100 Hours of Astronomy cornerstone project.
Located in the constellation Ursa Major at a distance of about 12 million light-years, it is the nearest and one of the most active starburst galaxies, i.e. it shows an exceptionally high rate of star formation. M82 is interacting gravitationally with its neighbour, the spiral galaxy Messier 81, which is most probably the cause for the violent starburst activity in its circumnuclear region.
The active star formation is taking place in its interior and its effect on the gas and dust in its interstellar medium can be observed very well from Earth. This makes M82 is one of the best-studied galaxies in the sky.
The image shows bright knots in the plane of the galaxy, indicating a region of intense star formation, and emerging plumes of hot gas blowing in X-rays bursting out of the galactic disk (in blue), resulting from very intense bursts of star formation in the circumnuclear region. It is composed of several different XMM-Newton observations of Messier 82, adding up to 52.5 h.
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