Hubble Telescope Captures Galaxy's Fluffy 'Flocculent Spirals'

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By Devin Coldewey

A new picture from the Hubble Space Telescope shows the spiral galaxy NGC 3521 in a shot that looks almost artificial in its painterly beauty. Discovered in 1784 by British astronomer William Herschel, the 40 million light-year distant object has what are called flocculent spirals, a softer version of the well-defined arms of other galaxies.

Related: Hubble Snaps 1.5 Billion-Pixel Close-Up of Andromeda Galaxy

Just why flocculent galaxies have this woolly appearance isn't known. It may be that more star formation areas and dust clouds are being spun around the periphery of the galaxy in the midst of the arms, rather than having most stars originate in one highly productive region at the center.

NGC 3521 is nicknamed the "Bubble Galaxy" for its appearance in common telescopes. If you'd like to spot it yourself, point yours toward the constellation Leo and look for something soft, round and very far away.