NGC 3344 galaxy: A lonely beauty

This image of the spiral galaxy NGC 3344, located about 20
million light-years from Earth, is a composite of images
taken through seven different filters. They cover
wavelengths from the ultraviolet to the optical and the
near-infrared. Together they create a detailed picture of
the galaxy and allow astronomers to study many different
aspects of it. Credit: ESA/Hubble, NASA

Beauty, grace, mystery—this magnificent spiral galaxy has all
the qualities of a perfect galactic Valentine. Captured by
the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, the galaxy NGC 3344
presents itself face-on, allowing astronomers a detailed look
at its intricate and elegant structure. And Hubble’s ability
to observe objects over a wide range of different wavelengths
reveals features that would otherwise remain invisible.

Spiral are some of the most spectacular
sights in the sky, but to an observer they do not all look the
same. Some are seen edge-on, giving astronomers an excellent
idea of the galaxy’s vertical structure; others are seen at an
angle, providing a hint of the size and structure of the
; while others are seen face-on,
showcasing their arms and bright core in all their beauty.

Approximately 20 million light-years away in the constellation
of Leo Minor (the Lion Cub), NGC 3344 is seen from a
breathtaking face-on perspective. Half the size of the Milky
Way, it is classified as a weakly barred galaxy. The central bar is just visible in
this image, taken with Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3: an
elongated lane of stars, trailing through the nucleus of the
galaxy. Astronomers estimate that two-thirds of all spiral
galaxies are barred, including our own Milky Way.

Hubble’s capacity to observe celestial objects in different
wavelengths allows us to see more than just the spiral arms
sweeping out loosely around the centre in a gorgeous whorl.
This image is a composite of images taken through different
filters, ranging from the near ultraviolet, to the optical and
the near-infrared. Together they show a more complete picture
of the galaxy than the human eye alone could possibly see.

The swirling spiral arms are the birthplace of new stars, whose
high temperatures make them shine blue, resulting in them being
easily identifiable in this image. Clouds of dust and gas
distributed through the spiral arms—glowing red in this
image—are reservoirs of material for even more stars. The
bright jewel-like stars on the left of the picture, however,
are much closer to Earth—they belong to our own galaxy and just
happened to photobomb this Hubble image.

While its face-on orientation reveals much about NGC 3344’s
detailed structure, this galaxy is still enigmatic; astronomers
have noticed that some of its outer stars are moving in a
strange way. Often, the high concentration of stars in the
centre of a galaxy can affect the movements of the outer stars,
but this does not seem to be the case in NGC 3344. Astronomers
suspect that these weirdly behaving outer may actually have been stolen from another
galaxy, after a close encounter that took place long ago.

The location of NGC 3344 is also intriguing. Our galaxy is part
of the Local Group, which is made up of approximately 40 other
galaxies, with the Andromeda Galaxy being the largest member.
But NGC 3344 is not part of a local galactic neighbourhood like
we are. It is actually part of a small spur that leads off the
larger Virgo Supercluster—a gargantuan collection of several
thousand galaxies.

But it stands out from these thousands of galaxies because of
its beauty, which highlights to us the elegance of the

Explore further:

Hubble’s majestic spiral in Pegasus