Behold the Grand Arms of This Gorgeous Galaxy in a New Hubble Image

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The Hubble Space Telescope has captured an image of a beautiful galaxy from a mysterious spot.

The galaxy, NGC 1566, revealed its broad pinwheels and pancake-like disk of stars and gas to the 33-year-old telescope. Because it’s oriented on its side, at least from our perspective on Earth, Hubble could get a great bird’s-eye view of the Milky Way. The scene is bright and dazzling, but there’s something else going on: astronomers are still figuring out what to make of NGC 1566’s home in space.

The observatory is run by the European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA. According to the ESA, this galaxy is located about 60 million light-years from Earth, in the constellation Dorado, the Spanish word for Mahi Mahi fish.

How big is the house of the Milky Way?

This aquatic sky drawing also takes its name from a collection of galaxies that includes NGC 1566. Just like stars, galaxies also huddle together. Sometimes hundreds of galaxies come together and remain connected by their collective gravity. These are known as clusters. But when galaxies form more intimate gatherings, there may be only dozens of galaxies. These are called groups.

NGC 1566 is part of a smaller set called the Dorado group. But according to ESA, scientists don’t yet know how many galaxies call it home. Knowing how galaxies interact and organize themselves can reveal a lot about the evolution of the universe. But astronomers are still working to determine which galaxies belong to the Dorado group and which appear to be close to its members but are actually much further away.

“As an example of why it is so difficult for astronomers to determine members of groups like the Dorado group, we can imagine a photo of an adult human and a large oak tree,” ESA officials wrote in the description. If both are the same size, the viewer guesses that the person is much closer than the tree, they explain. But to know that it is a perception trick (and that the person is not in fact a giant), the viewer must already know the usual size of the person and the oak tree.

“When working out the members of a group of galaxies, astronomers are not necessarily equipped with knowledge of the sizes of the individual galaxies,” ESA officials added. “This has become easier with more advanced observation techniques, but is still sometimes challenging.”

For now, it’s satisfying enough that NGC 1566 is such a spectacular sight.

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