Stunning portrait of galactic triplets

The entire universe in blog form
July 27 2011 6:00 AM

Stunning portrait of galactic triplets

Located a mind-numbing 350 quintillion kilometers away -- 35 million light years, a mere stone's throw on a cosmic scale -- the Leo Triplet is a set of three interacting spiral galaxies, each much like our own Milky Way. It's unusual for a professional observatory to get all three in the same image, but the 2.6 meter VLT Survey Telescope (VST) has a 268 megapixel camera, making it a snap to take a family portrait:

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

Advertisement

[Click to massively galactinate.]

How flipping awesome is that? This is one of those times I wish I could inlay a picture wider than 610 pixels; you really want to grab the hi-res version.

This incredible picture is a combination of green, red, and near-infrared filtered images (displayed a bit confusingly as magenta, green, and red respectively in the image above). The three galaxies are all spirals at varying degrees of tilt: M 66 at the lower right is the most open, NGC 3628 is almost exactly edge-on, and M 65 at the upper right is intermediate. Look at how prominent the central dust lane is in NGC 3628!

I've seen M 65 and 66 with my own telescope back when I was in high school, and I spent a lot of hours at the end of my driveway poking around the sky. They're pretty bright, but oddly I don't remember seeing NGC 3628. I wonder what I would have made of it? Now, with a couple of decades experience under my belt, I can see that the three galaxies are interacting: NGC 3628 has an inflated, puffy disk, and the you can see that wide-flung arm of M66. Those are clear signs the gravity of each of these galaxies is affecting the others.

Hubble snapped an amazing close-up shot of M66 last year, but there is something majestic and lovely about this wider, deeper picture. It really puts the galaxies in context, and astronomers can use that to see precisely how the galaxies are interacting. As usual, the marriage of science and beauty is clear and gorgeous when staged upon the sky.

Image credit: ESO/INAF-VST/OmegaCAM. Acknowledgement: OmegaCen/Astro-WISE/Kapteyn Institute



Related posts:


TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Meet the New Bosses

How the Republicans would run the Senate.

It Is Very, Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

The U.S. Is So, So Far Behind Europe on Clean Energy

Even if You Don’t Like Batman, You Might Like Gotham

Friends Was the Last Purely Pleasurable Sitcom

The Eye

This Whimsical Driverless Car Imagines Transportation in 2059

Medical Examiner

Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?  

A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.

A Woman Who Escaped the Extreme Babymaking Christian Fundamentalism of Quiverfull

John Oliver Debunks the Miss America Pageant’s Claim That It Gives Out $45 Million in Scholarships

  News & Politics
Over There
Sept. 22 2014 1:29 PM “That’s Called Jim Crow” Philip Gourevitch on America’s hypocritical interventions in Africa.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 22 2014 1:37 PM Subprime Loans Are Back! And believe it or not, that’s a good thing.
  Life
Dear Prudence
Sept. 22 2014 3:33 PM Killing With Kindness My in-laws want to throw me a get-well-from-cancer bash. There’s no way I can go.
  Double X
Doublex
Sept. 22 2014 4:06 PM No, Women’s Soccer Does Not Have a Domestic Violence Problem Or, why it is very, very stupid to compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice.
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 1:52 PM Tell Us What You Think About Slate Plus Help us improve our new membership program.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 22 2014 3:16 PM Watch the Best Part of Beyoncé and Jay Z’s On the Run Tour
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 22 2014 12:14 PM Family Court Rules That You Can Serve Someone With Legal Papers Over Facebook
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 22 2014 12:15 PM The Changing Face of Climate Change Will the leaders of the People’s Climate March now lead the movement?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.