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Close encounter with a cluster

NASA / ESA / STScI / AURA
The galaxy IC 4040 dominates the stage in this detail taken from Hubble's
view of the Coma Cluster. Click on the image for a zoomable version.

If galaxies are your thing, you simply have to zoom in on the Hubble Space Telescope's latest picture of the Coma Cluster, one of the densest collections of galaxies found to date.

The image, released today as part of the Hubble Heritage program, was assembled from data gathered by Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys in late 2006 and early 2007.

The entire cluster encompasses a spherical shape more than 20 million light-years in diameter, more than 300 million light-years from Earth in the northern constellation Coma Berenices. Hubble's mega-view takes in a scene several million light-years across, about a third of the way out from the cluster's center.

Hundreds of galaxies can be seen in the full-resolution view, which you can peruse as a zoomable HD View image. When you get to the HD View version, you can tweak the tone by clicking on a button in the upper right corner of the image.

If you don't want to go the HD View route, you can still feast your eyes on the HubbleSite's zoomable image. But we hope you'll find HD View to be a cool way of experiencing space imagery, not only from Hubble but also from the Earth-observing Landsat 7 satellite.

The star of the Coma Cluster show is the spiral galaxy highlighted in the detail image you see above, designated IC 4040. The configuration of the spiral's dusty arms suggest that the galaxy has been disturbed in the past, the Hubble Heritage team says in today's image advisory.

Below IC 4040 and a little bit to the left is a lenticular galaxy known as RB67 110. If you look closely in the zoomable view, you'll see a tiny spiral galaxy just to the right. This labeled image from the Hubble team provides a guide. To put Hubble's view in its proper context, you can peruse this Digital Sky Survey image of the full cluster, or click on this zoom-in video from the European Space Agency.

Most of the galaxies in the picture (and in the full cluster) are elliptical galaxies, relatively featureless "fuzzballs" that tend to be on the older side of the scale. Astronomers believe ellipticals result from galactic collisions, such as the one that's expected when the Andromeda Galaxy runs into our own Milky Way billions of years from now.

If galaxies are your thing, you don't need to stop with the Coma Cluster: You can also check out the galactic collisions recently documented by Hubble - and click through our collection of the greatest hits from the cosmos.

Update for 1:20 a.m. ET June 11: I should add that the HubbleSite has lots of other zoomable images to enjoy. You can find them using a Google search or Live Search. (Live Search is powered by Microsoft, which is a partner in the msnbc.com joint venture. HD View was developed by Microsoft Research.) To learn more about zoom tools, check out the Zoomify Web site.