Is this what the Milky Way looks like from the outside?

Posted by David Eicher
on Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Today, astronomers from the European Southern Observatory (ESO) released this cool image of the galaxy NGC 6744 in Pavo, deep in the Southern Hemisphere. This "postcard from extragalactic space," as the ESO press office puts it, shows a galaxy remarkably similar to the Milky Way in structure, so it gives us a glimpse of what our galaxy might look like from afar.

The image was made with the 2.2-meter telescope at ESO's La Silla Observatory in Chile. The galaxy lies about 180 million trillion miles (290 million trillion kilometers) away and is oriented almost face-on to us, providing a great view of the bursts of star formation taking place in its spiral arms (visible as pinkish knots). NGC 6744 is about twice the diameter of our galaxy, spanning some 200,000 light-years.

For anyone frustrated with seeing the arch of the Milky Way from within and wondering what our galaxy looks like from the outside, this is about as good a representation as you will ever get.

By the way, I will be away from the office for the next few days and will resume blogs on Wednesday, June 8.

Photo credit: ESO

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