Tuesday, May 22, 2012

NASA snaps picture of beautifully shaped galaxy

I frequently go at great lengths to explain studies and general scientific progress, but sometimes all it takes is a simple picture. NASA is pretty good at delivering stunning pictures of distant stars and galaxies with their special Hubble telescope, that takes pictures while orbiting the Earth as a satellite. They have already published beautiful pictures of the sun and a time-lapse of the Earth. Using the Hubble telescope, NASA managed to find several new planets, including one that consists largely of water. One of their goals is to find Earth-like planets, but a recent publication revealed a picture of a distant galaxy, which is beautiful enough to share.

NGC 891
Named NGC 891, the galaxy sits in the constellation of Andromeda and is about 30 million light years away from the Earth. Even though on the picture it seems like a small disk, NGC 891 really is around 100.000 light years across, an unimaginably vast distance including billions of stars.

NGC 891 is surrounded by a white halo, which NASA thinks consists of gas clouds and dust filaments, trying to escape the grip of the galaxy. Looking at the size of the halo, the dust and gas has already expanded over hundreds of light years. In the foreground, some stars from our own galaxy, The Milky Way, are visible.

The Universe is unimaginably big. NGC 891 is one of the billions of galaxies that we know exist, and every galaxy contains, on average, billions of stars. This small snapshot may not seem like much, but it is always hard to grasp how big things such as galaxies are. Nevertheless, it consists of many stars and planets that orbit them, which means it could very well be full of life. 

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