Second Place Looks Pretty Good
Spiral galaxy NGC 6872 lies roughly 300 million light-years away in the southern constellation of Pavo (The Peacock). It dominates the scene in this image taken using the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 on the Hubble Space Telescope. WIth its bright disk on the lower right and the long upper arm of the spiral trailing off to the left, it is beautiful sight.
In terms of size, NGC 6872 ranks as the second largest spiral galaxy found thus far. It spans over 500,000 light-years across, or about five times the size of our own Milky Way. But it is still less than half the size of the current reigning champion on the spiral galaxy size scale, which is NGC 262 at a diameter of 1.3 million light-years.
The long upper arm of NGC 6872 owes some of its distorted shape and diffuse coloration to the smaller IC 4970, seen just above the main disk of our second place finisher. In the fairly recent past (perhaps 130 million years ago), the smaller galaxy passed through this arm, teasing material into the ragged form we see today. That passage also triggered new star formation, which appears blue in this image.
Second place looks pretty good from where I’m sitting.
Image credit: ESA/Hubble and NASA