For most of us, staring up at the night sky only lets us see the brightest nearby stars, and if you’re anywhere near a city you probably won’t see much else thanks to pesky light pollution. The powerful lens on the Hubble Space Telescope doesn’t have to worry about any of that, and NASA can take gorgeous photos like the one you see above whenever it feels like it.
What you’re seeing here is a nearby galaxy called NGC 6744. It’s not a particularly interesting name, but that doesn’t make the colossal galaxy any less awesome. It’s up to twice as wide as our own Milky Way, and according to NASA it’s still a very active place.
The galaxy is thought to be around 200,000 light years across, which is about twice as wide as the Milky Way. In terms of its shape, it resembles our home galaxy quite a bit, with long, curved spiral arms made up of countless stars, planets, and loose gasses and dust.
“NGC 6744 is similar to our home galaxy in more ways than one,” NASA explains in a new blog post. “Like the Milky Way, NGC 6744 has a prominent central region packed with old yellow stars. Moving away from the galactic core, one can see parts of the dusty spiral arms painted in shades of pink and blue; while the blue sites are full of young star clusters, the pink ones are regions of active star formation, indicating that the galaxy is still very lively.”
The photo was taken with Hubble’s WFC3, which stands for Wide Field Camera 3. The spacecraft is certainly getting up there in terms of age, having recently celebrated its 28th year in service after being launched back in 1990. It’s clear that the telescope has plenty of life left in it, and that’s a very good thing considering the mounting delays and absurd cost overruns of its sorta-successor, the James Webb Space Telescope.
The James Webb was supposed to be in space for a decade already but it hasn’t even gotten off the ground. Northrop Grumman, the contractor who has been consistently disappointing NASA and the US government while working on the project, has been messing up big time in its construction. The company, of course, refuses to absorb those costs and would rather pass the bill to NASA, which is already struggling for funding. Oh well, at least we have Hubble!