Hubble snags a wooly galaxy in latest breathtaking photo

One of the best things about the Hubble Space Telescope in orbit high above the Earth right now is that it takes fantastically beautiful images of the universe around us. The latest image NASA has offered up from the Hubble is of a spiral galaxy NGC 3521. At first glance you might think that the fuzzy appearance of the photo is due to something with the telescope's imaging capability.

The reason things look a bit soft in the photo is because the galaxy has a soft, wooly appearance. NGC 3521 is a member of a class of galaxies known as flocculent spirals. The hallmark of this type of galaxy is that they lack clearly defined arch structures in their spiral arms.

Galaxies with well-defined arching structures are called grand design spirals, an example of this type of galaxy is Messier 101. NGC 3521 has a generally spiraling form, but other galaxies of this type show up with glowing star-filled regions that look like discontinuous or short spiral arms.

Tap the thumbnail above for a full-sized version of this photo from NASA.

About 30% of known galaxies are wooly and look similar to NGC 3521 and 10% have star forming regions would into grand design spirals. NGC 3521 is 40 million light-years away in the Leo constellation. It was discovered in 1784 by William Herschel, a British astronomer.