A Little Perspective

It’s been a rough start to 2015, so I thought I’d step back and look at a bigger picture.

NASA released an image of a section of one of our nearest neighbors, galactically-speaking: the Andromeda galaxy, also known as M31.

The image itself contains 1.5 billion pixels and represents the largest image ever released by the Hubble Space Telescope.

The section of the galaxy shown contains over 100 million stars and would take 40,000 years to traverse at the speed of light.

A section of the Andromeda galaxy.  Click here to explore the image using the NASA zoom tool.  Source: NASA

A section of the Andromeda galaxy.
Click here to explore the image using the NASA zoom tool.
Source: NASA

Something to remind me on the one hand, that we are part of something far more vast than the human squabbles that take place on the surface of our planet, and on the other hand, that among all these countless celestial bodies, this little planet is the only one we’ve got.

If you’ve got the time, set your screen to full-view and spend a few short minutes on this lovely fly-through video, put together by YouTube user daveachuck.

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:

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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.