The punctuated spiral

By Phil Plait | June 8, 2011 11:00 am

Cosmic coincidences always make me smile. The sky is pretty big, so finding two totally unrelated objects close together doesn’t happen often. But it does happen, like in this delightful image of the spiral galaxy NGC 3244 and the star TYC 7713 527-1:

This reminds me of another cosmic photobomb involving a star and a galaxy, but in this one the contrast isn’t quite so severe. The two objects seen here are unrelated; TYC 7713 is in our galaxy, while NGC 3244 is something like 100 million light years away. Maddeningly, I can’t find the distance to the star, so I can’t give you an exact ratio (I know it’s reddish, and a magnitude of about 10.2, but that could mean it’s an orange/red dwarf 100 light years away or a red giant 10,000 light years distant). Still, it’s way way closer to us than the galaxy. A millionth the distance? Maybe.

The galaxy is pretty nice; a nearly perfectly face-on spiral. I noticed it’s a bit lopsided, with one arm poking out a bit. Those clumps along the arm are regions of active star formation, and the dust lanes are clear too. Not bad for a galaxy a mere 2 arcminutes across in size — compare that to the Moon, which is 15 times larger in the sky! In real size, it’s not terribly big as galaxies go: about 25,000 light years across, only a quarter of the size of our galaxy.

In the press release linked above, it says this image was taken "with the help of" V√°clav Klaus, President of the Czech Republic, who was visiting the Very Large Telescope at the time. I wonder what his involvement was — it’s fun to think of the country’s leader using a joystick to swoosh and zoom the ‘scope. Still, it’s very nice indeed to see a major Head of State paying attention to science. Especially when it’s astronomy, and involved such a lovely image.

Related posts:

Hubble snaps a cosmic photobomb
The belch of a gassy galaxy
The Milky Way’s (almost) identical twin
Revisiting the Whirlpool

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Pretty pictures

Comments (10)

Links to this Post

  1. Blogs worth reading « ndgsjames | June 10, 2011
  1. Dean

    Anyone else seeing a question mark laying on it’s side (similarly with the linked photo, but that’s an exclamation point)? Prolly the BA’s fault for using that title :)

  2. Chris A.

    TYC 7713-527-1 is in the Tycho catalog, but listed with a negative parallax (-9.60 mas) and a large parallax error (25.40 mas)–which really means that the parallax was too small to measure. That tells me that it ain’t 100 l.y. away, so I’m going with the “distant red giant” hypothesis.

  3. Brian Too

    @1. Dean,

    How about a yo-yo?

  4. Messier Tidy Upper

    Superluminous image. Love it. :-)

  5. Ausmith1

    Phil, V√°clav Klaus the very vocal global warming skeptic?
    Yeah, I’d love it if he would pay attention to science…

  6. Tom

    This is probably a dumb question…but are we seeing the actual globe of the star or is it simply the exposure time that has made a pin-prick of light appear to be a globe? Seem to remember reading somewhere that Betelgeuse is the only star that appears as more than a pin-prick of light to terrestrial telescopes.

  7. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ Tom : Not a dumb question at all – there’s (almost) no such thing if you ask me.

    Anyhow, I’m pretty sure that the star there *is* just a point source and we are NOT seeing it as a sphere in this case. Far as I’m aware only a handful of stars have ever been measured or captured as “spheres” using specialised equipment in order to do so – Betelguese and Mira (Omicron Ceti) being the two main examples that spring to mind.

    Incidentally, both Betelguese and Mira are actually misshapen and are NOT round but distrted – Mira’s thin outer atmosphere has been gravitationally distorted by its smaller partner or possibly by its internal pulsations and drawn into a “hook” protubence with the wonderful red giant istelf more an oval than a sphere.

    The surfaces of some other stars have been mapped using helioseismology and some such as Altair, Regulus and Achernar have been flattened into egg-shaped ellipsoids by their extremely rapid rotation rates. Not sure if that exactly counts as them being imaged directly though.

  8. Messier Tidy Upper

    See :



    For more info and images of some examples of stars whose shapes we’ve seen. Although I take great issue with their contention that Altair – an A7 V type Sirian star quite different and much hotter, brighter and more massive than our Sun – is “sun-like” as they describe in the last link there. Both Altair and our G2 V yellow dwarf Sun are (like 90% of all stars) on the core hydrogen fusing main-sequence but that’s about where the similarities between them stops! ūüėČ

  9. ted

    “Global warming is a false myth and every serious person and scientist says so.”
    -V√°clav Klaus
    Didn’t want anyone thinking he was some kind of enlightened scientific patron.


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