No, this isn’t an extraordinarily bright interstellar UFO, or an alien honing beacon, but a large, majestic galaxy seen edge-on. Called NGC 4762, it lurks 58 million light-years away from Earth in the constellation of Virgo.
This Hubble image captures the best view yet of this oddly-familiar galaxy, which is technically classified as a disk galaxy. Galaxies in this group are incredibly thin and cloaked in secrecy, as our vantage point often makes it incredibly difficult to see into the heart of galaxies face-on. NGC 4762 takes it a step further. It’s so thin, astronomers have had issues singling out just which subcategory it belongs to.
Based on numerous factors — including its decidedly insignificant optical dust lanes — it would seem as if it is a lenticular galaxy with a low concentration of dust. However, looks might be deceiving. If we were able to view it from a different perspective (perhaps from “above”), a hidden spiral structure might manifest.
We would also get a rather impressive look at its disk, bar, outer-ring and central bulge. It would also be clear that the galaxy’s shape has been slightly warped, perhaps when it gravitationally interacted with one of its neighbors in the past.
Additionally, it is a member of the Virgo Cluster (not to be confused with the Virgo Supercluster); a collection of well over a thousand galaxies, spanning millions upon millions of light-years across. From tip-to-tail, this galaxy alone spans 100,000 light-years!
See a larger image here.