Sunday, November 05, 2023

Galaxies NGC 3166 & NGC 3169 in Sextans | Schulman Telescope

Galaxies NGC 3166 & NGC 3169 in Sextans | Schulman Telescope

This galactic grouping, found about 70 million light-years away in the constellation Sextans (The Sextant), was discovered by the English astronomer William Herschel in 1783. Modern astronomers have gauged the distance between NGC 3169 (left) and NGC 3166 (right) as a mere 50,000 light-years, a separation that is only about half the diameter of the Milky Way Galaxy. In such tight quarters, gravity can start to play havoc with galactic structure.

Spiral galaxies like NGC 3169 and NGC 3166 tend to have orderly swirls of stars and dust pinwheeling about their glowing centers. Close encounters with other massive objects can jumble this classic configuration, often serving as a disfiguring prelude to the merging of galaxies into one larger galaxy. So far, the interactions of NGC 3169 and NGC 3166 have just lent a bit of character. NGC 3169’s arms, shining bright with big, young, blue stars, have been teased apart, and lots of luminous gas has been drawn out from its disc. In NGC 3166’s case, the dust lanes that also usually outline spiral arms are in disarray. Unlike its bluer counterpart, NGC 3166 is not forming many new stars.

NGC 3169 has another distinction: the faint yellow dot beaming through a veil of dark dust just to the left of and close to the galaxy’s center. This flash is the leftover of a supernova detected in 2003 and known accordingly as SN 2003cg. A supernova of this variety, classified as a Type Ia, is thought to occur when a dense, hot star called a white dwarf—a remnant of medium-sized stars like our Sun—gravitationally sucks gas away from a nearby companion star. This added fuel eventually causes the whole star to explode in a runaway fusion reaction.

Technical Details

Optics: Schulman 32-inch RCOS Telescope

Camera: SBIG STX16803

The 0.81 m (32 in) Schulman Telescope is a Ritchey-Chrétien reflector built by RC Optical Systems and installed in 2010. It is operated by the Mount Lemmon SkyCenter and is Arizona's largest dedicated public observatory. The Schulman Telescope was designed from inception for remote control over the Internet by amateur and professional astrophotographers worldwide. It is currently the world's largest telescope dedicated for this purpose.

Image Credit & Copyright: Adam Block/Mount Lemmon SkyCenter/University of Arizona
Caption Acknowledgements: Adam Block/European Southern Observatory (ESO)
Image Date: Jan. 1, 2013

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