Here's What We Must Look Like From Extragalactic Space

I think I can see my house from here

Today in pretty space pics, the Wide Field Imager attached to the MPG/ESO 2.2-meter telescope at the ESO's La Silla Observatory in Chile offers us this bird's-eye view of . . . our own galaxy?

The spiral-armed galaxy you see here is not the Milky Way, however -- though it might easily be mistaken for it -- but instead a nearby galaxy known as NGC 6744 that is something of a galactic Doppelganger to our own home galaxy.

NGC 6744 is about 30 million light years away, but from our vantage point here on Earth we view it almost face on, offering us a fantastic view of the spiraling star cluster from a nearly ideal position. It is one of the closest and largest spiral galaxies -- it's actually twice as big as the Milky Way -- and offers astronomers a nice observable analog to our own galaxy and the way things tend to organize themselves in such systems.

What's more, its closeness to our own galaxy coupled with its brightness (about 60 billion suns) make it very visible in the southern sky. Amateur astronomers with even low-power telescopes should be able to see it as an ovular hazy patch with a bright center about twice the size of the moon. Of course, if you point a 2.2-meter professional ‘scope at it, the results are even more impressive.

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