Friday, March 28, 2008

NGC 1300 in Eridanus

NGC 1300 is an unbelievably beautiful galaxy in the constellation Eridanus, the River. Our attention is on the tiny section of the utmost outer limits of this giant barred spiral galaxy, half again bigger than our Milky Way:

The outer arms of NGC 1300 are studded with bursts of young, blue giant stars. These stars are hundreds of times larger than the Sun yet live only a fraction as long as the Sun because they burn their hydrogen fuel at an intensely fast rate. NGC 1300 is about 70 million light years from Earth. The yellow spiral galaxy in the photo is twice that far from Earth.

Looking these pictures reminds me of why the early 20th century astronomers referred to other galaxies outside the Milky Way as "Island Universes." If you ponder the distance and paucity of matter between NGC 1300 and the lonely galaxy far behind its outer arm, no bigger in size than star, the distances and isolation flatten your imagination.

Like Podunk, some galaxies are truly out in the middle of nowhere. This spiral behind Eridanus must not get many visitors.

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