I always get a little flush of excitement when I see an email from my friend Adam Block in my inbox. His astrophotos never fail to awe me; the combination of a 0.8 meter (32”) telescope and Adam’s skill at image combination always yields something amazing. I post his photos quite a bit here on the blog.
And I was not disappointed when I saw his shot of the galaxy NGC 7497. It’s fantastic:
Amazing. But also — not to put too fine a point on it — weird.
The galaxy itself is a run-of-the-mill spiral galaxy, seen by coincidence nearly (but not quite) edge-on from Earth. It’s about 60 million light years away, close enough to see some details in its wide-flung arms. The blue is from young, hot, massive stars, and the arms are dotted with pink gas clouds still actively forming such stars. Pretty, but not necessarily enough to make it stand out in a crowd (in fact, a literature search yielded essentially nothing on it; it’s not an active galaxy, or the host of a historical supernova).
What’s weird is all that brown stuff! That’s actually a molecular cloud, a cold, dark knot of dust that happens to lie in the foreground (wider shots of all this can be seen on SpaceBanter and at Capturando el Universo). It’s part of our own Milky Way galaxy; called MBM 54 it’s probably about 400 light years away. Think of it as a smudge on your window when you’re looking out at a distant mountain.
Because the cirrus material is so close to us, and the galaxy so far, the alignment of NGC 7497 and all this weird galactic dust is a coincidence.
…or is it? This is just the kind of thing Stargate Command would be trying to hide from us!