Looking Up: The Edge Of Night

Mar 13, 2017

Galaxy NGC 5866 lies about 44 million light years distant toward the constellation of the Dragon (Draco).
Credit NASA, ESA, and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA); Acknowledgment: W. Keel (U. Alabama)

This week Hal spins a tale about the Spindle Galaxy, affectionately known as NGC 5866.

Most things in the sky have scientific names. But sometimes we also name things because of what they look like, like the Big Dipper. And if you are under 50 years old, you may be forgiven for asking what the heck the Spindle Galaxy is named after. 

Located in the northern constellation of Draco, the Spindle is close enough to the north celestial pole that it is visible all year round. It is a spiral galaxy, like our own Milky Way, but we are seeing it edge-on, so it looks like, well, a long skinny spindle. In my telescope, it looks like a ghostly line, with dark lanes of dust cutting across the dim white light.

The Spindle may look tiny, but it actually holds roughly four times more stars than our galaxy, with roughly 1 TRILLION stars in that skinny line of light. At about 40 million light years away, the light you see from it started its journey through space when this part of Colorado was a swampy rain forest, with huge redwood trees, now only found as fossils at the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument. And the Spindle is not alone – It is part of a group of galaxies with many members, all gravitationally bound in space. You might say the Spindle is shuttling through a giant space loom, but you probably shouldn’t.

If you’d like to take a closer look at the Spindle Galaxy or any of the wonderful and amazing things in the sky, please visit CSASTRO.org for a link to information on our monthly meetings and our free public star parties! 

This is Hal Bidlack for the Colorado Springs Astronomical Society, telling you to keep looking up, Southern Colorado!