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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The ancient peoples saw pictures in the sky. From those patterns in the heavens, ancient storytellers created legends about heroes, maidens, dragons, bears, centaurs, dogs and mythical creatures...
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