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Spiral Galaxy NGC 4565
NGC 4565, Caldwell 38
RA 12hr 36m 20.83s Dec 25° 59' 14.04"
30 million light years
15.90' × 1.85'
6.85 x 6.84 arcminutes
North is 180.0° right of vertical
August 10, 2005
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ABOUT THIS IMAGE:
The galaxy pictured here is NGC 4565, which for obvious reasons is also called the Needle Galaxy. The 10th magnitude galaxy sits perpendicular to our own Milky Way galaxy and is almost directly above the North Galactic Pole (in the same way Polaris is located above the Earth's North Pole). First spotted in 1785 by Uranus' discoverer, Sir William Herschel (1738-1822), this is one of the most famous example of an edge-on spiral galaxy and is located some 30 million light-years away in the constellation Coma Berenices (Berenice's Hair). Visible through a small telescope, some sky enthusiasts consider NGC 4565 to be a prominent celestial masterpiece Messier missed. It displays a bright yellowish central bulge that juts out above most impressive dust lanes.
Because it is relatively close (it is only 12 times farther away than Messier 31, the Andromeda galaxy, which is the major galaxy closest to us) and relatively large (roughly one third larger than the Milky Way), it does not fit entirely into the field of view of the FORS instrument (about 7 x 7 arcmin2).
Many background galaxies are also visible in this FORS image, giving full meaning to their nickname of "island universes".
How does the Galaxy in which we live look like?
It is almost certain that we will never be able to send a probe out of our Milky Way to take a snapshot, in the same way as the first satellites could do to give us striking images of planet Earth. But astronomers do not need this to imagine what our bigger home resembles. And they have a pretty good idea of it. The Milky Way with its several hundreds of billion stars is thought to be a relatively flat disc - 100,000 light-year across - with a central bulge lying in the direction of the constellation Sagittarius (The Archer) and six spiral arms. The Milky Way has most probably also a central bar made of young, bright stars. If we can't take pictures of the Milky Way, we may photograph others galaxies which astronomers think look similar to it.
The two galaxies presented in this release are just two magnificent examples of barred spiral galaxies. NGC 4565 shown here, appears edge-on and Messier 83, the other galaxy featured is seen face-on. Together, they give us a nice idea of how the Milky Way may appear from outer space.
These images are based on data obtained with the twin FORS1 and FORS2 (FOcal Reducer and Spectrograph) instruments attached to two ESO's 8.2-m Unit Telescopes of the Very Large Telescope Array located on Cerro Paranal. The data were extracted from the ESO Science Archive Facility, which contains approximately 50 Terabytes of scientific data and is, since April 1, 2005, open to the worldwide community. These invaluable data have already led to the publication of more than 1000 scientific papers. They also contains many nice examples of beautiful astronomical objects which could be the theme of as many midsummer's dreams.