May 21

A “ring galaxy” 600 MILLION light-years away

Hoag’s Object is the weirdest galaxy I know of; it is a “ring galaxy” – a very rare galaxy type that’s just a galactic core of stars, surrounded by a ring of stars that’s seemingly disconnected from its core.

This galaxy has always captured my imagination. Just look at this image from the Hubble Space Telescope:

IDL TIFF file

As if this galaxy weren’t amazing enough, look closely – there is *another* ring galaxy far behind it, seen through its ring! The odds of that would seem incomprehensible, but perhaps there’s something about this direction in space that makes ring galaxies more likely to form.

Hoag’s Object is around 600 million light-years away – it’s INCREDIBLY distant, and as a result, incredible small and faint from our viewpoint here on Earth. I never though I could capture it at all from my suburban driveway, but I did! Here’s about 5 hours of exposure time taken using my own (non-space) telescope:

Just think – the light from Hoag’s Galaxy that hit my telescope last night had been travelling for 600 million years; we are literally looking that far back in time here. 600 million years ago, animals didn’t even exist yet on Earth, much less humans. The very first plants were just beginning to emerge.

Whoah.

Some people might just see a fuzzy ring around a funny dot in this picture. But what I see really captures the imagination.

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