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Hubble image showcases supernovae-filled spiral galaxy

By Brooks Hays
Hubble image showcases supernovae-filled spiral galaxy
NGC 4051 has hosted several supernovae through the years. Photo by Hubble/NASA/ESA

June 14 (UPI) -- The picture perfect spiral galaxy NGC 4051, positioned in the constellation of Ursa Major, is speckled with the bright flashes of dying stars.

The plethora of supernovae scattered throughout the arms of the spiral galaxy make NGC 4051 an ideal portrait subject for the Hubble Space Telescope. On Friday, NASA shared NGC 4051's latest head shot.

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"When massive stars die at the end of their short lives, they light up the cosmos with bright, explosive bursts of light and material known as supernovae," NASA reported. "A supernova event is incredibly energetic and intensely luminous -- so much so that it forms what looks like an especially bright new star that slowly fades away over time."

Astronomers first spotted a supernova originating from NGC 4051 in 1983. Scientists observed another in 2003. The galaxy's most recent supernova appeared in 2010. The dying stars can glow intensely for several years, but supernovae eventually fade.

Scientists classified the supernovae discovered in 1983 and 2010 as Type Ic supernovae, which are characterized by the core collapse of massive stars after the outer layers of hydrogen and helium are stripped away by stellar winds or stolen by a hungry companion star.

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NGC 4051, which was discovered in 1788 by the British astronomer William Herschel, is one of several galaxies that make up the a cluster of galaxies known as the Ursa Major Cluster. The cluster is part of the Virgo Supercluster, which also hosts the Milky Way Galaxy.

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