Hubble captures confused identity of Virgo galaxy

Hubble recently captured an image of a Virgo galaxy in transition, straddling the line between two identities.

NGC 4388 is one of 1,300 galaxies making up the Virgo Cluster. The gravitationally-bound galaxies are found within the Virgo Constellation.

As revealed by the latest Hubble image, NGC 4388 boasts features of both an elliptical and spiral galaxy. The galaxy is classified as a spiral galaxy, but its smooth, featureless outskirts resemble an elliptical galaxy.

Its spiral classification is inspired by the galaxy’s two symmetric spiral arms, snaking out from its orb-like center. Hidden within the dark clouds of dust outlining the arms are beams of bright blue radiation, a sign young stars are being born.

Scientists believe the dual identities of NGC 4388 are a result of its position within a crowded cluster where galaxies are colliding, merging and influencing one another in a variety of ways.

NGC 4388 is a highly inclined spiral galaxy located in the constellation Virgo at a distance of 59 million light-years.

It was discovered on April 17, 1784 by British astronomer Sir Wilhelm Herschel. Also known as LEDA 40581 and IRAS 12232+1256, NGC 4388 is one of the brightest galaxies in the Virgo Cluster, a group of more than 2,000 galaxies.

NGC 4388 has a bright energetic nucleus and so is classified as an active galaxy. The galaxy is undergoing a transformation, and has taken on a somewhat confused identity.

While NGC 4388’s outskirts appear smooth and featureless, a classic feature of an elliptical galaxy, its center displays remarkable dust lanes constrained within two symmetric spiral arms, which emerge from the galaxy’s glowing core — one of the obvious features of a spiral galaxy.

Within the arms, speckles of bright blue mark the locations of young stars, indicating that NGC 4388 has hosted recent bursts of star formation.In 2002, astronomers discovered a very large region of ionized gas extending around NGC 4388.

This region has a size of roughly 114,000 light-years and is located preferentially toward the northeastern side of the galaxy. It consists of many filaments or clouds, with a typical size of 330 light-years.

NGC 4388 might have experienced at least one minor merger in the past.Peculiar morphological characteristics of NGC 4388, such as its boxy bulge and central bar, and the faint hump and tail that extend outside the disk, could have formed as a result of the dynamical disturbance induced by the merger.

Recently, researchers also discovered an intergalactic compact star-forming region near NGC 4388. The location of the region is about 55,000 light-years north of the disk of the Virgo galaxy. This picture of NGC 4388 was snapped by Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3).