Eighty-five million years ago, our Sun and its solar system was 60,000 light years away from where it now stands .
Eighty-fivemillion years ago, in another corner of the Universe, light left thebeautiful spiral galaxy NGC 1350, for a journey across the universe.Part of this light was recorded at the beginning of the year 2000 AD byESO's Very Large Telescope, located on the 2,600m high Cerro Paranal inthe Chilean Andes on planet Earth.
Astronomers classify NGC 1350as an Sa(r) type galaxy, meaning it is a spiral with large centralregions. In fact, NGC 1350 lies at the border between the broken-ringspiral type and a grand design spiral with two major outer arms. It isabout 130,000 light-years across and, hence, is slightly larger thanour Milky Way.
The rather faint and graceful outer arms originateat the inner main ring and can be traced for almost half a circle whenthey each meet the opposite arm, giving the impression of completing asecond outer ring, the "eye". The arms are given a blue tint as aresult of the presence of very young and massive stars. The amount ofdust, seen as small fragmented dust spirals in the central part of thegalaxy and producing a fine tapestry that bear resemblance with bloodvessels in the eye, is also a signature of the formation of stars.
Theouter parts of the galaxy are so tenuous that many background galaxiescan be seen shining through them, providing the observers with anawesome sense of depth. It is indeed quite remarkable to see that witha total exposure time of only 16 minutes, the VLT lets us admire suchan incredible collection of island universes wandering about in thesky. ESO PR Photo 31b/05 is a mosaic of some of the most prominentgalaxies found in the images. Some of these may reside as far asseveral billion light-years away, i.e. the light from these galaxieswas emitted when the Sun and the Earth had not yet formed.
NGC1350 is located in the rather inconspicuous southern Fornax (TheFurnace) constellation . Recessing from us at a speed of 1860 km/s, it is eighty-five million light-years away. It is thus mostprobably not a member of the Fornax cluster of galaxies, the mostnotable entity in the constellation, that lies about 65 millionlight-years away and contains the much more famous barred spiral NGC1365. On the sky, NGC 1350 stands on the outskirts of the Fornaxcluster as can be seen on this image taken with the 1m-Schmidttelescope at La Silla.
ESO PRPhoto 31a/05 is a colour-composite image based on data collected withthe FORS2 instrument on the VLT on January 26, 2000, at a time whenKueyen was still in its commissioning phase. The observations were donein four different filters (B - exposure time: 6 min, V - 4 min, R - 3min, and I - 3 min), each associated with a given colour (blue, green,orange and red, respectively). The image covers a region of 8x5 arcmin2on the sky. North is to the left and East is down. The images wereextracted from the ESO science data archive and further processed byHenri Boffin (ESO) and the colour composite was made by Haennes Heyerand Ed Janssen (ESO). An image, reproduced from the "Exploring theSouthern Sky" book by S. Laustsen, C. Madsen and R.M. West, showing theFornax Cluster of Galaxies and the position of several prominentmembers is available on the Fornax Cluster page.
: The Sun rotates around the centre of the Milky Way and completes a full circle in about 200 million years.
:Fornax (The Furnace) was named by French astronomer Nicolas Louis de LaCaille (1713-1762), when observing from the Cape between 1750 and 1754.He defined 14 new southern constellations, giving them the names ofscientific instruments - e.g. the Telescope - or names taken from thefine arts - e.g. the Sculptor. The original name he proposed was FornaxChemica (Latin for chemical furnace) as a tribute to famous chemistAntoine Lavoisier (1743-1794).
: This means that, 85 millionyears ago, when the light we now record left it, the galaxy was 530,000light-years closer to us.
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