I finished reading a sci-fi novel yesterday (Gateway by Frederik Pohl; fascinating storytelling) and it got me thinking about the size of galaxies, and how truly immense even interplanetary distances are. This image suited my mood.
The first identified compact galaxy group, Stephan’s Quintet is featured in this eye-catching image constructed with data drawn from the extensive Hubble Legacy Archive. About 300 million light-years away, only four galaxies of the group are actually locked in a cosmic dance of repeated close encounters. The odd man out is easy to spot, though. The four interacting galaxies (NGC 7319, 7318A, 7318B, and 7317) have an overall yellowish cast and tend to have distorted loops and tails, grown under the influence of disruptive gravitational tides. But the larger bluish galaxy, NGC 7320, is much closer than the others. Just 40 million light-years distant, it isn’t part of the interacting group. In fact, individual stars in the foreground galaxy can be seen in the sharp Hubble view, hinting that it is much closer than the others. Stephan’s Quintet lies within the boundaries of the high flying constellation Pegasus.