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Our neighbor, the Andromeda spiral galaxy.
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Image provided by Jason Ware

Spiral Galaxies

Spiral galaxies may remind you of a pinwheel. They are rotating disks of mostly hydrogen gas, dust and stars. Through a telescope or binoculars, the bright nucleus of the galaxy may be visible but the spiral arms are dimmer and difficult to see.

Spiral galaxies are complex objects and have several components: a disk, a bulge, and a halo. The disk contains gas, dust, and young stars in its spiral arms. The dense bulge in the center of the disk contains mostly old stars and no gas or dust. The halo is the home of a very few, scattered stars and globular clusters. The halo is also the home of dark matter in spiral galaxies.

Spirals are subdivided based on the appearance of the arms and the central region. Sa types have a large, bright central region and tightly wound arms, while Sc types have a smaller central region and loosely wound arms. Sb types are somewhere in between. Spiral galaxies can also have bar-like structures through them. These galaxies are classified as SB.

Galaxies like to live together in groups called clusters. There are not many of spirals in a cluster usually, but they are more common than ellipticals in the regions between clusters.

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The Fall 2009 issue of The Earth Scientist, which includes articles on student research into building design for earthquakes and a classroom lab on the composition of the Earth’s ancient atmosphere, is available in our online store.

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA