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Location #23

Galaxy Messier 81

The magnificent spiral arms of the nearby galaxy Messier 81 are highlighted in this NASA Spitzer Space Telescope image. Located in the northern constellation of Ursa Major (which also includes the Big Dipper), this galaxy is easily visible through binoculars or a small telescope. M81 is located at a distance of 12 million light-years from Earth.  Dust in the galaxy is bathed by ultraviolet and visible light from the surrounding stars. Upon absorbing an ultraviolet or visible-light photon, a dust grain is heated and re-emits the energy at longer infrared wavelengths. The dust particles, composed of silicates (which are chemically similar to beach sand) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, trace the gas distribution in the galaxy. The well-mixed gas (which is best detected at radio wavelengths) and dust provide a reservoir of raw materials for future star formation.The infrared-bright clumpy knots within the spiral arms denote where massive stars are being born in giant H II (ionized hydrogen) regions. Pictures and information taken from

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