Beautiful Science

Dwarf galaxy NGC 5949, seen here in an image taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, sits at a distance of around 44 million light years away from Earth, which places it within the Milky Way's cosmic neighbourhood. Hence, NGC 5949 is considered a perfec
PHOTO: ESA/HUBBLE & NASA

Dwarf galaxy NGC 5949, seen here in an image taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, sits at a distance of around 44 million light years away from Earth, which places it within the Milky Way's cosmic neighbourhood. Hence, NGC 5949 is considered a perfect target for astronomers to study dwarf galaxies. With a mass of about a hundredth that of the Milky Way galaxy, to which our solar system belongs, NGC 5949 is a relatively bulky example of a dwarf galaxy. It is classified as a dwarf because of its relatively small number of constituent stars. The galaxy's loosely bound spiral arms also place it in the category of barred spirals - a structure that is just visible in the image, which shows the galaxy as a bright yet ill-defined pinwheel. Despite its small proportions, NGC 5949's proximity has meant that its light can be picked up by fairly small telescopes, something that facilitated its discovery by the astronomer William Herschel in 1801.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 01, 2017, with the headline 'Beautiful Science'. Print Edition | Subscribe