Largest Spiral Galaxy in the Universe irmed –Five Times Size of the Milky Way
The spectacular barred spiral galaxy NGC 6872 has ranked among the biggest stellar systems for decades. Now a team of astronomers from the United States, Chile and Brazil has crowned it the largest-known spiral, based on archival data from NASA’s Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX) mission, which has since been loaned to the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif. Measuring tip-to-tip across its two outsized spiral arms, NGC 6872 spans more than 522,000 light-years, making it more than five times the size of our Milky Way.
“Without GALEX’s ability to detect the ultraviolet light of the youngest, hottest stars, we would never have recognized the full extent of this intriguing system,” said lead scientist Rafael Eufrasio, a research assistant at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and a doctoral student at Catholic University of America in Washington.
The galaxy’s unusual size and appearance stem from its interaction with a much smaller disk galaxy named IC 4970, which has only about one-fifth the mass of NGC 6872. The odd couple is located 212 million light-years from Earth in the southern constellation Pavo. Astronomers think large galaxies, including our own, grew through mergers and acquisitions — assembling over billions of years by absorbing numerous smaller systems. Intriguingly, the gravitational interaction of NGC 6872 and IC 4970 may have done the opposite, spawning what may develop into a new small galaxy.
“The northeastern arm of NGC 6872 is the most disturbed and is rippling with star formation, but at its far end, visible only in the ultraviolet, is an object that appears to be a tidal dwarf galaxy similar to those seen in other interacting systems,” said team member Duilia de Mello, a professor of astronomy at Catholic University.
Computer simulations of the collision between NGC 6872 and IC 4970 reproduce the basic features of the galaxies as we see them today. They indicate that IC 4970’s closest encounter occurred 130 million years ago and that the smaller galaxy followed a path (dashed curve) close to the plane of the spiral’s disk and in the same direction it rotates. The tidal dwarf candidate is brighter in the ultraviolet than other regions of the galaxy, a sign it bears a rich supply of hot young stars less than 200 million years old.
The estfacts via http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/galex/galex20130110.html