Hubble sees a cosmic whirl, the ghost of a galaxy

The Hubble telescope, now in its last three years of operation among the stars, has glimpsed a striking spiral in the Pisces constellation, 90 million light years from Earth.

The whirl, which brings to mind the dizzying spiral in the intro to "Twilight Zone," Season 3, is at the center of galaxy NGC 524, according to NASA.

NGC 524 isn't actually a spiral galaxy, the space agency notes. It's lenticular -- in essence, the memory of a formerly vigorous galaxy.

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A lenticular galaxy, NASA explains, is what remains after a middle-aged spiral galaxy, with its pinwheel arms harboring millions of stars, fades and weakens. Its clouds of gas and dust, where stars are born, dissipate. The lenticular galaxy is "a bright disc full of old, red stars surrounded by what little gas and dust the galaxy has managed to cling to."

Hubble was launched in 1990 from the shuttle Discovery and has contributed to numerous scientific breakthroughs, as the Los Angeles Times' Karen Kaplan reported in March.

Among discoveries: Hubble focused in on a tiny region of space containing galaxies born when the universe was very young, examining galaxies as old as 10 billion years.  It confirmed the existence of supermassive black holes. And the telescope provided visual evidence supporting the theory that planets are from dust and other material surrounding young stars.

NASA will keep the space telescope's science operations going at least through April 30, 2016.


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