Thursday, February 24, 2011

It's A Wonderful Life - Stephan's Quintet

Click on the image for a larger view

What galaxy photo do you think has been seen by more people than any other?  Your first thought might be that it could be the Andromeda galaxy, but I'm thinking it might be a group of galaxies instead.  In one of the most watched movies of all time, the 1946 movie "It's A Wonderful Life", there is a short scene at the beginning of the movie where God an two angles are talking.  God and one angel are represented by galaxies and a star represents a third angel.  These galaxies, called the Stephan's Quintet and are the subject of my latest astro photo above. I snatched the second image from the movie on YouTube:

My image, taken last Fall, is a three hour exposure using my 7.5" Mak/Newtonian, 1000mm focal length telescope.  Stephan's Quintet is the group of 5 galaxies at lower left.  At the upper right is the beautiful spiral NGC 7331.

NGC7331 is the largest member of a cluster of galaxies, some of which you see above and below the galaxy. At 49 million light years away, NGC 7331 is similar in size to our own Milky Way galaxy.  The other galaxies are further away a varying distances.  A unusual thing is going on with this galaxy.  Astronomers have determined that the central bulge of stars in NGC7331 are rotating opposite that of the rest of the galaxy.  This was probably caused by infalling material, probably from smaller galaxies millions of years ago.

Stephan's Quintet was discovered by Edouard Stephan in 1877, however, only four of the five are actually part of the group.  The largest galaxy in the grouping only seems to be close, since it is 7 times closer to us (40 million light years), while the other four galaxies are 290 million light years away.  Click on the above image to bring up a larger image and notice that they are not normal spirals, but are distorted and have long arcing arms.  This is because the galaxies are violently colliding with each other.  Over millions of years, they will merge into one large elliptical galaxy.  To see a really nice Hubble Telescope image and more interesting information go to: