This "galaxy" is a cosmic optical illusion

Illustration for article titled This galaxy is a cosmic optical illusion

This chaotic mess may look like a single galaxy. However, NGC 3314 is actually two distinct galaxies separated by millions of light-years that just happen to be perfectly arranged relative to Earth so that they look like one gigantic galaxy.


A NASA astronomer explains:

The foreground spiral is viewed nearly face-on, its pinwheel shape defined by young bright star clusters. But against the glow of the background galaxy, dark swirling lanes of interstellar dust appear to dominate the face-on spiral's structure. The dust lanes are surprisingly pervasive, and this remarkable pair of overlapping galaxies is one of a small number of systems in which absorption of light from beyond a galaxy's own stars can be used to directly explore its distribution of dust. NGC 3314 is about 140 million light-years (background galaxy) and 117 million light-years (foreground galaxy) away in the multi-headed constellation Hydra. The background galaxy would span nearly 70,000 light-years at its estimated distance.



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