Hubble celebrates New Year with new star birth photo

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has captured an image of a galaxy 45 million light years away, described as "bursting with new star formation" as a vastly-powerful black hole churns through matter. The photo – of the NGC 1097 galaxy – centers on a black hole 100 million times the mass of our own sun and, as we tick over into a new year, shows the evolution of new solar systems.

NGC 1097 is what's known as a Seyfert galaxy, characterized by intense brightness at their core. There, despite the voracious appetite of a supermassive black hole, a huge amount of radiation is thrown out as clouds of ionized hydrogen are released.

It's that frothing of material swooping its way into the black hole that makes Seyfert galaxies such hot-beds for new star formation. "The ring is around 5000 light-years across," NASA says, "although the spiral arms of the galaxy extend tens of thousands of light-years beyond it."

Galaxy-gazing has become headline news in recent weeks, with predictions that the first "Earth twin" will be identified sometime in 2013. Obviously the forming stars around spiral galaxy NGC 1097 are a little too young to deliver that; it's suggested that the High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) will be most likely to identify a suitable candidate, rather than Hubble.