Lenticular Sorcery

Galaxy NGC 524, a photo released July 22, 2013 by the Hubble Space Telescope. The galaxy is located an estimated 90 million miles (144 million km) from Earth, in the constellation of Pisces.
Photo: NASA/ESA

I admit it: As beguiling as I find this swirling image of the un-poetically named NGC 524 galaxy, what I really like is the terminology around it.

NGC 524 is a lenticular galaxy, which astronomers regard as an intermediate stage between a spiral galaxy, a many-armed whirligig of dust and gas which is still forming stars and looks something like this:

eso9845d
Galaxy NGC 1232, located in the constellation Eridanus (The River).
Photo: ESO

and a later evolutionary phase of galaxies, the elliptical galaxy, which lacks the amount of dust and gas, the ensorcelling arms, and the star-making capacities of the spirals. Ellipticals come in variety of more bland circular or stretched forms, and might look like this:

Elliptical galaxy
Credit: NASA

Scientists say that NGC 524 is passing from a spiral state into an elliptical phase, losing its gases yet still retaining its whirl of motion for the time being.

But, as I said, as fascinating as the developmental trajectory is from one type of galaxy to the next, I’m writing about it today because of all those lovely names. Spiral. Elliptical. And most of all, lenticular.

Sometimes naming itself can conjure magic.