Here is your weekly reminder of Psalm 19 — spiral galaxy NGC 2841.
Click on the image to appreciate its full grandeur.
Such a boring name for such a beautiful object. German-British astronomer William Herschel discovered NGC 2841 in the late 18th century, although at that time he wouldn’t have known what he was looking at. Astronomers at the time categorized these indistinct objects as “spiral nebulae” and thought they resided inside of the Milky Way. By the 1920s, astronomers realized they were looking at “island universes,” what we now refer to as galaxies, that are well beyond the Milky Way.
NGC 2841 is, like our galactic home, a spiral galaxy. However, it’s about 50% larger and its arms are “flocculent” or patchy and more tightly wound than the Milky Way’s. At 46 million light-years away, this galaxy is close enough to us that the Hubble Space Telescope was able to snap this magnificent view of its interior. Its golden-yellow nucleus contains a dense population of very old stars, while its arms are punctuated by bright blue dots and glowing pink hydrogen clouds indicating regions where new stars are forming. The dark swirls in the galaxy’s patchy arms are comprised of dusty gas that blocks visible light from view. If you have sufficiently dark skies and a large-ish telescope, you should be able to see this galaxy as an indistinct patch of fuzz in the Ursa Major constellation.
Image credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage (STScI / AURA) – ESA / Hubble Collaboration.