Deceptive loneliness: Hubble photographs spiral galaxy NGC 2814

The Hubble Mission Team released a new image. It shows the spiral galaxy NGC 2814.

Spiral galaxy NGC 2814. Source: ESA/Hubble & NASA, C. Kilpatrick

NGC 2814 is located at a distance of about 85 million light-years from Earth. In the Hubble photo, the galaxy looks rather isolated: visually, it looks like a loose stroke of bright paint on a dark background. However, appearances can be deceptive. In fact, NGC 2814 has three close (by astronomical standards) neighbours: the spiral galaxy NGC 2820, the irregular galaxy IC 2458 and the spiral galaxy without a bar NGC 2805.

Such a neighbourhood has its consequences. Observations in the radio range revealed extended structures between galaxies created by their tidal interactions. As for NGC 2814, its disk is distorted, and increased rates of star formation are observed in a number of regions.

Collectively, these four galaxies form a group of galaxies known as Holmberg 124. In some sources, they are referred to the group of “late-type galaxies”. This term refers to spiral and irregular galaxies, while the “early type” is elliptical galaxies.

Such terminology demonstrates how confusing astronomical nomenclature can be. It may seem that elliptical galaxies should be the evolutionary precursors of spiral and irregular galaxies, while in reality everything is just on the contrary. However, this nomenclature has historically been fixed in astronomy and is still used today.

As another illustrative example of confusing terminology, the term “planetary nebula” can be cited. Despite the name, such nebulae have absolutely nothing to do with planets.

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