Arching Eyebrow Frames Galactic Eye

NASA, ESA

An arch­ing lane of dark dust resem­bles an eye­brow above a blue eye in this image of Arp 116 from the NASA/ESA Hub­ble Space Telescope.

Explore this unusual galac­tic pair. What sto­ries or pic­tures do you see? Leave a note in the com­ments below.

These two galax­ies couldn’t be more dif­fer­ent. The giant ellip­ti­cal galaxy in the cen­ter is known as Messier 60. The smaller spi­ral galaxy is NGC 4647. M60 is a clas­sic exam­ple of ellip­ti­cal galax­ies. The mas­sive galax­ies are usu­ally fea­ture­less, egg shaped galax­ies that are very bright. Nearly a tril­lion stars can make up their bright cores and dif­fuse halos. Most notable in this pair is the color. Ellip­ti­cal galax­ies tend to have less gas and dust used in star mak­ing. So the stars in these galax­ies are older yel­low and red stars.

NGC 4647, on the other hand, is full of new blue stars. Dark lanes of dust and faint blotches of neb­u­lae line the galac­tic arms offer­ing fuel for future star for­ma­tion. The galaxy is about the size of our own Milky Way Galaxy but is a light­weight com­pared to the M60 galaxy. The smaller spi­ral galaxy is only about two-thirds the size of its mas­sive companion.

As you explore, look for dozens of far­away galax­ies of var­i­ous shapes through the bright haze of M60.

While the two galax­ies over­lap as seen from Earth, astronomers are not sure whether the two are close enough to inter­act. Waves of star for­ma­tion at the edges of the galax­ies usu­ally offer the clear­est signs that inter­ac­tions are occur­ring. Recent stud­ies from the Hub­ble Space Tele­scope do sug­gest that early inter­ac­tions, a slight push­ing and pulling of galax­ies spi­ral arms, between the two are occurring.

M60 lies about 50 mil­lion light-years from Earth toward the con­stel­la­tion Virgo, the Vir­gin. NGC 4647 is a lit­tle more dis­tant, roughly 63 mil­lion light-years away.

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