Hubble spots a spiral galaxy edge-on

The NASA Hubble Space Telescope recently observed a galaxy known as NGC 2683, which astronomers jokingly refer to as the “UFO Galaxy.”

Indeed, the spiral galaxy was spotted almost edge-on by the advanced telescope, giving it the shape of a classic science fiction spaceship.

While a bird’s eye view allows astronomers to view the detailed structure of a galaxy (such as this Hubble image of a barred spiral), a side-on view offers its own advantages.

Specifically, it enables astronomers to spot the delicate dusty lanes of the spiral arms silhouetted against the golden haze of the galaxy’s core. In addition, brilliant clusters of young blue stars shine scattered throughout the disc, mapping the galaxy’s star-forming regions.

Perhaps surprisingly, side-on views of galaxies like this one do not prevent astronomers from deducing their structures. To be sure, studies of the properties of the light originating from NGC 2683 suggest it is a barred spiral galaxy – even though this particular angle does not let us see this directly.

The image above is produced from two adjacent fields observed in visible and infrared light by Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys. A narrow strip – which appears slightly blurred and crosses most the image horizontally – is actially a result of a gap between Hubble’s detectors. 

This strip was subsequently patched using images from observations of the galaxy made by ground-based telescopes, which show significantly less detail. The field of view is approximately 6.5 by 3.3 arcminutes.

NGC 2683 – originally discovered on Feb. 5, 1788, by William Herschel – is located in the Northern constellation of Lynx.