With the help of Dark Energy Camera (DECam), an observatory in northern Chile captured a stunning view of Messier 83, also known as the Spiral of the Southern Pinwheel. Astro Data Archive at the Community Science and Data Center (CSDC) Program at NSF's National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research (NOIR) Lab captured the image of the Southern Pinwheel galaxy, which was discovered in 1752 by French astronomer Nicolas Louis de Lacaille. The image released on YouTube also gives a hint on how our own Milky Way Galaxy may look from afar.
Messier 83 is an almost perfect illustration of what a spiral galaxy is stereotypically supposed to look like. The scientist explained that this is because humans have the fortune of seeing it from a practically perfect overhead, or face-on, perspective. The latest image was acquired with DECam attached to the Víctor M. Blanco telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO) in northern Chile.
In a press note, NOIR Lab said that the dark tendrils curling through the galaxy are lanes of dust blocking the light. The red dots of lights visible in the video are the hot hydrogen gas where new stars are being created. According to the press release, the Southern Pinwheel galaxy has a diameter of around 50,000 light-years which is quite similar to the Milky Way Galaxy that had a diameter of 100,000 - 200,000 light-years.
NOIR Lab explained that six-light filters were used to make the image, all highlighting specific features within the galaxy. In total, the picture is the product of 163 DECam exposures taken across 11.3 hours of observation time. As per the press note, work done with DECam will inform future observations made by the new Vera C. Rubin Observatory, which should see first light later this year and become fully operational in 2023.
Monika Soraisam, an astronomer at the University of Illinois and principal investigator for DECam’s observations of Messier 83, explained, “The Messier 83 observations are part of an ongoing program to produce an atlas of time-varying phenomena in nearby southern galaxies in preparation for Rubin Observatory’s Legacy Survey of Space and Time”.
Further, the Rubin Observatory will also capture 1,000 images each night, which it will do continuously for an entire decade. Starting in 2023 the ten year-operation of Rubin Observatory will carry out an optical survey of the visible sky named the Legacy Survey of Space and Time (LSST). Soraisam said that the researchers are “generating multi-colour light curves of stars in this galaxy, which will be used to tame the onslaught of alerts expected from LSST using state-of-the-art software infrastructure such as NOIRLab's own ANTARES alert-broker”.