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If you have ever wondered what our Milky Way galaxy would look like when viewed from a distance then take a look at the sensational new image of NGC 1073 recently captured by the Hubble Space telescope.

Like most spiral galaxies in the Universe, NGC 1073 is of the "barred spiral" type that contain a pronounced central bar structure. Our own Milky Way is also believed to be of this variety and the new image of NGC 1073 offers a remarkably clear view of such a galaxy.

The Hubble Space Telescope image of barred spiral galaxy NGC 1073 (NASA/ESA)

Especially of interest to astronomers, is the intriguing detailed view of the central bar structure of NGC 1073. Galaxies star-filled bars are thought to emerge as gas is sucked towards the centre, supplying the material for new stars. The transport of gas can also feed the supermassive black holes that lurk in the centres of almost every galaxy.

The presence of this structure may also be an indication of a spiral galaxy's age. Some astronomers have suggested that the formation of a central bar-like structure might signal a spiral galaxy's passage into adulthood since the central bars turn up more often in galaxies full of older, red stars than younger, blue stars. Evidence supporting this theory is that observations in the early Universe show only around a fifth of spiral galaxies contained bars, while more than two thirds do in the more modern cosmos.

By studying galaxies like NGC 1073, astronomers hope to learn more about our own galaxy.

Location

NGC 1073 is about 50 million light-years away and is located in the constellation of Cetus - The Sea Monster. It was discovered by William Herschel on the 9th October 1785 and is roughly positioned halfway between magnitude 2.5 star Menkar (alpha Ceti) and famous variable star Mira (omicron Ceti).

With an apparent magnitude of 11.0 it is not a bright galaxy and can be glimpsed with a medium (150–>200mm) sized telescope, but is best viewed with a large instrument. Visually it appears as faint, fairly large round shaped smudge of light. Astro imagers fare much better and it is possible to capture the barred centre and spiral arms of the galaxy in some detail. The apparent dimension of NGC 1073 is 4.9 x 4.5 arc minutes. Also located in the surrounding area are galaxies M77 (mag. 8.9), NGC 936 (mag. 10.1), NGC 1055 (mag. 10.6), NGC 1087 (mag. 11.0), NGC 1090 (mag. 11.9) and NGC 1016 (mag. 11.9).

The finder charts below show the position of NGC 1073.

NGC 1073 Finder Star Charts

NGC 1073 Finder Star Charts - pdf format

NGC 1073 Data Table

GalaxyNGC 1073
DiscovererWilliam Herschel
Discovery Date9th October 1785
ConstellationCetus
Right ascension (J2000)02h 43m 41s
Declination (J2000)+01d 22m 34s
TypeBarred Spiral SBc
Visual magnitude11.0
Apparent size (arc mins)4.9 x 4.5
Actual size (light-years)72,000
Redshift (km/s)1208 ± 5
Distance (light-years)50 Million
Other designationsUGC 2210, PGC 10329, MCG +00-08-001, ZWG 389.002, IRAS02411+0109

Hubble Space telescope

This latest picture continues the Hubble space telescope's long history of striking astronomical images. The orbiting space telescope is now in its 22nd year of operation and is expected to continuing to operate until at least into 2014.