The world is a nightmare, but alien worlds are stunning, shocking and utterly, beautifully mad. So instead of wondering what’s happening down here, let’s, for a brief moment, look up at what’s happening out there.
Courtesy of the venerable Hubble Space Telescope, we have a brand-new, stunning image of a spiral galaxy by the name of NGC 3344, seen here showing off its shimmering stars with aplomb. Not content with being infuriatingly incandescent, lingering in the regal-sounding constellation of Leo Minor, it’s actually positioned at an angle where we can marvel at it face on, rather than awkwardly at an angle.
According to a press release by the European Space Agency (ESA), approximately half the size of the Milky Way, it’s a weakly barred spiral galaxy – a familiar squiggly whorl with a bar-shaped central structure impregnated with lovely stars. Although a common feature of spiral galaxies, NGC 3344 hasn’t managed it with quite the same level of finesse, which has earned it that “weakly” clause.
You’re being lied to a little, though. This isn’t a true color image, but a composite, one composed of images taken over several different wavelengths, from the ultraviolet through the optical to the infrared. This way, features that would be invisible to our own eyes are, fortunately, very visible indeed.
High-temperature blue-tinted regions are full of star birth, whereas the redder zones are hydrogen-rich ponds of material perfect for forging new stellar furnaces. Those bright stars to the top-left of the shot, by the way, aren’t part of the distant spinny wonder, nor are they lens glare effects added by J.J. Abrams: they’re stars from our very own Milky Way, apparently photobombing NGC 3344.
There are some curious features to NGC 3344, according to NASA. Some of its outer stars are moving in a slightly unexpected way – not quite in perfect sync with the rest of the galactic whirlpool – which may suggest they’ve been poached from another galaxy during a close encounter, eons ago.
In what amounts to something of an astro-crush, ESA explains that “this magnificent spiral galaxy has all the qualities of a perfect galactic Valentine.” At 20 million light-years away, they’re clearly angling for a record in long-distance relationships.
Whatever you think of the aesthetic qualities of NGC 3344, it’s safe to say that the image quality makes a big difference to how this galaxy is perceived.
Check out this ultraviolet image of the same spiral taken back in 2005 by the GALEX Telescope. Perhaps thanks to the decidedly fuzzier image quality, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory are nowhere near as effusive as ESA are today. In fact, they note that it has a “large face,” which seems a bit mean.