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
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