A Long Time Ago, In A Galaxy Far Far Away…

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Behold: beautiful spiral galaxy Messier 106 (as it was about 17 million years before the evolution of humans), dominating a cosmic vista toward the well-trained constellation Canes Venatici, near the handle of the Big Dipper. To wit:

Also known as NGC 4258, M106 is about 80,000 light-years across and 23.5 million light-years away, the largest member of the Canes II galaxy group. For a far far away galaxy, the distance to M106 is well-known in part because it can be directly measured by tracking this galaxy’s remarkable maser, or microwave laser emission. Very rare but naturally occurring, the maser emission is produced by water molecules in molecular clouds orbiting its active galactic nucleus. Another prominent spiral galaxy on the scene, viewed nearly edge-on, is NGC 4217 below and right of M106. The distance to NGC 4217 is much less well-known, estimated to be about 60 million light-years, but the bright spiky stars are in the foreground, well inside our own Milky Way galaxy. Even the existence of galaxies beyond the Milky Way was questioned 100 years ago in astronomy’s Great Debate.

A closer look, perhaps?

(Image: Joonhwa Lee)

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3 thoughts on “A Long Time Ago, In A Galaxy Far Far Away…

  1. Cú Chulainn

    Aren’t the skies wonderful and clear these nights. Will the skies be like that when we are all in electric cars and buses..? Maybe the Greens.. oh.. lost the run of myself for a moment..

    1. Steph Pinker

      Absolutely, Cú! Buy yourself a cheap telescope* if you’ve a few quid to spare and use this time to be amazed and humbled, especially so if you see a shooting star. Coupled with a nice fire, wine, food and company it can do wonders for the soul.

      * You can always invest in a more expensive one should you choose to take it up as a hobby, but the cheaper ones are still good enough to pique an interest.

      1. Cú Chulainn

        Thank you Steph, I think I might just do that. And maybe, just maybe after this we might do something radical – like get rid of petrol and diesel, invest in renewables with the money saved* from importing oil, and keep the clean air. *now that we know our government can just write the cheque when it wants to.

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