Ho-Hum, Just Another Gorgeous Spiral Galaxy

The entire universe in blog form
June 12 2013 11:30 AM

Ho-Hum, Just Another Gorgeous Spiral Galaxy

NGC 3344 photographed by Adam Block
The beautiful face-on spiral galaxy NGC 3344. Click to galactinate.

Photo by Adam Block/Mount Lemmon SkyCenter/University of Arizona

A little while back, I wrote an article about some new results dealing with the structure and formation of the Milky Way, our home galaxy. While I was digging through my emails looking for news about those studies, I found an unrelated note sent earlier from astronomer Adam Block, who frequently lets me know when he has cool pictures he’s taken. I had overlooked it somehow, but I’m glad I found it.

Shown above, that’s NGC 3344, photographed by Block using the 0.8 meter (32 inch) Schulmann Telescope (RCOS) on Mt. Lemmon in Arizona. It's a magnificent face-on spiral galaxy about 20 million light years away... and when I saw that was the distance, my scientist-alarm pinged inside my brain. It seemed like an odd distance. Why, you ask?


Our galaxy is in a small collection of 50 or so galaxies called the Local Group, and it’s a few million light years across (the Andromeda Galaxy is the only other big galaxy in the group, and it’s less than three million light years distant). The M81 Group is another small clot of galaxies about 10 million light years away, for example. The nearest actual cluster to us is the Virgo Cluster, about 50 million light years away, and it has well over 1000 galaxies in it.

So the distance to NGC 3344 is a bit weird; it’s neither here nor there. It’s apparently part of a small spur off the big Virgo Supercluster, a huge collection of clusters themselves, which contains the Virgo cluster, the Local Group, the M81 Group, and many more. Still, this means NGC 3344 is relatively isolated, off more-or-less by itself.

Galaxy in a spin
Just for comparison, this is Hubble's view of NGC 3344. Click to embiggen.

Photo by ESA/Hubble & NASA

It’s a fantastic example of an intermediate spiral; the arms not too tightly wound, not too flung open. It has a mild bar in the center, a rectangular extension of stars commonly seen in spirals; the Milky Way has one.  In Adam’s picture you can see dozens of pinkish clumps indicating the presence of warm hydrogen; a dead giveaway that those are sites of ongoing star formation. The bright star just above the galactic center is most likely one inside our own galaxy, fortuitously and coincidentally placed.

If I had to pick a favorite type of object in our Universe, it may very well be grand-design spiral galaxies. They posses grace, beauty, and hold a vast amount of scientific interest. Even if we didn’t live in one, I suspect they would still hold a very special place for me.



Crying Rape

False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

The Music Industry Is Ignoring Some of the Best Black Women Singing R&B

How Will You Carry Around Your Huge New iPhone? Apple Pants!

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.


The Other Huxtable Effect

Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.

Lifetime Didn’t Find the Steubenville Rape Case Dramatic Enough. So They Added a Little Self-Immolation.

No, New York Times, Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman” 

Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 1:39 PM Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman,” New York Times. Neither Are Her Characters.
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM An Up-Close Look at the U.S.–Mexico Border
  News & Politics
Sept. 19 2014 9:15 PM Chris Christie, Better Than Ever
Sept. 19 2014 6:35 PM Pabst Blue Ribbon is Being Sold to the Russians, Was So Over Anyway
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 19 2014 1:34 PM Empty Seats, Fewer Donors? College football isn’t attracting the audience it used to.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 4:48 PM You Should Be Listening to Sbtrkt
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 19 2014 5:09 PM Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?   A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.
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.