Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA); Acknowledgment: W. Keel (U. Alabama)

There aren't many galaxies we've observed that are like this aesthetically. However, contrary to our instincts, this galaxy isn't too different from our own. Instead, it's technically classified as a "lenticular galaxy." Galaxies belonging to this classifications have attributes of both spiral and elliptical galaxies. Like spiral galaxies, they contain disks of dense collections of dust. Many of these disks are just as thin as the one pictured here is. Yet like elliptical galaxies, they are typically lacking in gas, and the lovely spiral arms seen in galaxies like the Milky Way (our Sun is located on the inner rim of the Milky Way's Orion Arm).

This particular example, NGC 5866, lies about 44 million light-years from Earth in the constellation known as Draco. Although it contains an overall mass close to that of the Milky Way, it's only about 60,000 light-years across. Similar to the famed Sombrero Galaxy, NGC 5866 appears so thin because we are actually looking at it edge-on. From this vantage point, we can see its complex series of dust lanes as well as its central disk, which is tinged orange, highlighting the large quantity of old stars that live there. Conversely, the younger, more energetic blue-stars can be seen extending much farther behind the galactic plane of the galaxy.

Other famous lenticular galaxies include the Cartwheel Galaxy, NGC 2787 (which is actually a barred lenticular galaxy) as well as NGC 4526 and NGC 2217.

See a larger image here. Or see various sizes here.


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