NASA’S Spitzer space telescope has spotted a mysterious sideways galaxy, perfectly shaped like a lightsaber.
Known as NGC 5866, the galaxy has a diameter of roughly 60,000 light years – a little more than half the diameter of our own Milky Way galaxy – and lies around 44 million light years from Earth.
Its blue haze, which shrouds around the impeccably straight blue line around the galaxy is produced by stars, which make up most of the its mass.
Its shape is unusual as most galaxies are either spiral shaped or thick discs of dusk.
NGC was captured this way, because of the Spitzer craft’s vantage point.
Spitzer allows us to glimpse the edge, which is why it looks like a beam of light, rather than how it might appear head-on.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory shared the image saying it might look like a “lightsaber” floating in space but is actually an entire galaxy viewed sideways.
“The long red beam in the centre of the image is a galaxy called NGC 5866,” JPL said in a statement.
Spitzer detects infrared light, while Hubble only captures visible and UV light.
“The red colour here corresponds to an infrared wavelength typically emitted by dust.
“The clean edges of the dust emission from NGC 5866 indicate that there is a very flat ring or disk of dust circling the outer region of the galaxy.”
The one structural detail astronomers can determine is that the galaxy likely has a flat dust disk around its outer region, which can form when galaxies merge. But there is no other sign of a merger, adding to the mystery.
The Spitzer telescope took the image during its “cold” mission, which ended in 2009.
“Blue light corresponds to Spitzer’s observations at a wavelength of 3.6 microns, produced mainly by stars; green corresponds to 4.5 microns; and red corresponds to 8 microns,” NASA said.
Spitzer was launched 16 years ago and is planned to retire in 2020.
In 2009 most of the telescope’s instruments became inoperable due to the liquid helium running out, which was needed to maintain extremely cool temperatures (approximately −268 °C).
The on-board infrared array camera (IRAC) remained the only working module that took the image of NGC.
During its lifetime, it has observed many remarkable spectacles in the vastness of space.
It discovered exoplanets and galaxies in the ancient universe, such as the Henize 206 nebula, the Cat’s Paw nebula, magnetic field lines of the Cigar Galaxy.