Desktop Project Part 9: Again I see IC 342

By Phil Plait | April 3, 2012 9:25 am

[Over the past few weeks, I've collected a metric ton of cool pictures to post, but somehow have never gotten around to actually posting them. Sometimes I was too busy, sometimes too lazy, sometimes they just fell by the wayside... but I decided my computer's desktop was getting cluttered, and I'll never clean it up without some sort of incentive. I've therefore made a pact with myself to post one of the pictures with an abbreviated description every day until they're gone, thus cleaning up my desktop, showing you neat and/or beautiful pictures, and making me feel better about my work habits. Enjoy.]

IC 342 is a relatively close by face-on spiral galaxy. At 10 million light years distant, it should actually be easily visible in binoculars and would be renowned for its incredible beauty except for one small problem: we have to peer through the thick dust choking our own galaxy to see it. It’s like sitting in a smoky room and trying to see something out the window on the far side of it. Your view is obscured.

But infrared light passes through dust quite easily, so when you turn an IR telescope — like NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope — toward IC 342, what you get is spidery magic!

[Click to embiggen.]

Holy wow! What you’re seeing is the dust in IC 342 glowing where stars are being born; giant gas clouds are star birth factories, and are shrouded in dust. The stars’ light warms the dust up and it glows. The vast complex of nebulae trace out the spiral arms, looking like a web knit by an astronomically-minded spider.

I’ve written about IC 342 twice before. Once was when the NOAO released a gorgeous image of it taken by my friend Travis Rector. Seriously, click that link. The image is spectacular.

The other time was last year when WISE, another infrared observatory, took a look at IC 342. The view is pretty similar, as you might expect — the parts of the infrared spectrum making up both images are nearly the same — but Spitzer’s mirror is twice the size of the one in WISE, so the resolution is somewhat better.

Still, the more the merrier! IC 342 is a dramatic example of a nearby face-on spiral, and there aren’t too many of those around. Even though our own Milky Way galaxy has photobombed it into relative obscurity, the prying eyes of science are pretty good at seeing through all that.


Related Posts:

- A taste of WISE galaxies
- The heat of the Pinwheel
- S marks the spot
- Treasure in the dust

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Pretty pictures

Comments (8)

  1. Musical Lottie

    That’s gorgeous, as are the WISE images linked, and indeed Mr Rector’s – breathtaking. I’ve never seen this galaxy before, so to collect three gorgeous images of it all at once is very pleasing!

  2. Aerimus

    I can’t be the only one thinking that this thing is out there looking for hobbits…

  3. Infinite123Lifer

    So the 10 million light years away that IC342 is got me wondering just how many galaxies lie within that distance. Andromeda is the closest spiral galaxy, but I found some other interesting news from an old Universe Today post. Like, for starters the Local Group is considered to be those galaxies within about 4 million light years. So IC342 I suppose would not be considered part of the local group? Which it is not. It is part of the Maffei 1 Group. I am guessing like everything with mass that somehow IC342 or the Maffei 1 Group is still influenced perhaps by our own Local Group? I crack myself up. I am just dieing to know whats going to happen 100 million years from now :) suppose reincarnation is my best hope for that one.

    http://messier.seds.org/xtra/ngc/maffei1g.html

    I also found that Canis Major Dwarf Galaxy is the closest galaxy. . . actually being part of the Milky Way itself, and actually being closer to us than the galactic center :/ I suppose maybe our own galaxy has not devoured it sufficiently to distinguish it as just part of the Milky Way, seems odd to me to have a galaxy within a galaxy which is still distinguishable but I suppose it does take a great amount of time for these colossal collisions to completely connect and become indistinguishable from one another, but the closest galaxy is . . . In our own galaxy.

    Makes me question whether I am capable of rationalizing astronomical (ooh that might just be an oxymoron) distances. So if Canis Major Dwarf consists of about 1 billion stars and the Milky Way consists of about 200 billion or so, that means there is a lot of space for Canis Major to accompany.

    That got me questioning once again. . . what is the real Universe and not just my perception of it. More clues usually just add to more mystery, what an infinitely perplexing dilemma this whole Universe thing has turned out to be :) just glad to be lucky enough to be able to contemplate it.

  4. JEHermit

    Looking at the new Spitzer pic and the distrabution of the gas/dust arms. It looks to me as if IC 342 flew past/ had and encounter with some other galaxy is a short period of time since the arms on the left of the pic look fairly balanced and the arms on the right look all distorted and pulled apart. Its facinating.

  5. Brian Too

    I see from those pictures that IC342 conducted a solid 1/8 turn between the two images!

  6. @^ Brian Too : I presume you already realise this & I’m kinda stating the obvious I know but just in case not; I’m sure that apparent “galactic turn” is just the result of the orientation & presentation of the photos and not due to actual movement. The stars in the spiral arms will be moving pretty astronomically fast but NOT *that* fast! ;-)

    ***

    Fascinating hidden galaxy and good images here – thanks BA for sharing ‘em. :-)

    ***
    @3. Infinite123Lifer :

    I also found that Canis Major Dwarf Galaxy is the closest galaxy. . . actually being part of the Milky Way itself, and actually being closer to us than the galactic center :/ I suppose maybe our own galaxy has not devoured it sufficiently to distinguish it as just part of the Milky Way, seems odd to me to have a galaxy within a galaxy which is still distinguishable ..

    Well I guess it depends on whether you count Omega Centauri as a dwarf galaxy as well! ;-)

    Of course now Omega Cen is “just” the largest, most massive and most luminous of our Milky Way’s globular clusters but it was quite probably the core of it’s own Galaxy once and is located 15,800 light-years versus the Canis Major Dwarfs 25,000 ly distance. (Click on my name for source – wikipedia.)

    BTW. Like IC342, most of the Maffei galaxy group including its two main galaxies are obscured by the dust and visually mostly hidden by our own Galaxy too.

    That got me questioning once again. . . what is the real Universe and not just my perception of it. More clues usually just add to more mystery, what an infinitely perplexing dilemma this whole Universe thing has turned out to be just glad to be lucky enough to be able to contemplate it.

    Yes, indeed. the great philosophical – ontological and epistemological – questions combined in one – what is reality and how do I know that?!

  7. Nigel Depledge

    @ Infinite 123 Lifer (3) and MTU (6) -
    Cogito, ergo sum.

  8. siva
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