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November 2003

NGC 5566 and company

Galaxies do not like to be alone. Nearly all galaxies have companions nearby - our own Milky Way has many small "satellite" galaxies nearby such as the Magellanic Clouds, which can be seen from the Southern Hemisphere. This group, centered around NGC 5566 in Virgo, lies 65 million light years away... the light that we see today left these galaxies about the same time dinosaurs were wiped out on Earth.

Compared to the other galaxy images in this calendar, each galaxy in this group is somewhat distorted by the gravitational pull of the neighbors. The large galaxy, for example, has a bright inner ring. These galaxies have probably passed close to one another some time in the distant past. In fact, most galaxies show some evidence of past interactions (for example, M81 in the May image).

Much richer clusters of galaxies exist. This group has a handful, but the richest clusters of galaxies can have thousands. Imagine what a wonderful night sky is being viewed by creatures on planets surrounding stars in those galaxies!