And in the image, NGC 6744 looks a lot like our Milky Way.
We see NGC 6744 almost face on, meaning we get a bird’s eye view of the galaxy’s structure. If we had the technology to escape the Milky Way and could look down on it from intergalactic space, this view is close to the one we would see, striking spiral arms wrapping around a dense, elongated nucleus and a dusty disc. There is even a distorted companion galaxy — NGC 6744A, seen here as a smudge to the lower right of NGC 6744, which is reminiscent of one of the Milky Way’s neighboring Magellanic Clouds.
This image of NGC 6744 was taken with the Wide Field Imager on the MPG/ESO 2.2-meter telescope at La Silla. The large spiral galaxy is similar to the Milky Way, making this image look like a picture postcard of our own galaxy sent from extragalactic space. The picture was created from exposures taken through four different filters that passed blue, yellow-green, red light, and the glow coming from hydrogen gas. These are shown in this picture as blue, green, orange and red, respectively. Credit:ESO
One difference between NGC 6744 and the Milky Way is their size. While our galaxy is roughly 100 000 light-years across, the galaxy pictured here extends to almost twice this diameter. Nevertheless, NGC 6744 gives us a sense of how a distant observer might see our galactic home.
This dramatic object is one of the largest and nearest spiral galaxies. Although it has a brightness of about 60 billion Suns, its light spreads across a large area in the sky — about two thirds the width of the full Moon, making the galaxy appear as a hazy glow with a bright center through a small telescope. Still, it is one of the most beautiful objects in the southern sky, and it can be identified by amateur astronomers as an oval shape contrasting with a rich background of stars.
Spiral galaxy NGC 6744 in the constellation of Pavo (The Peacock). This map shows most of the stars visible to the unaided eye under good conditions and the galaxy itself is marked with a red ellipse in a red circle. This galaxy can be easily seen with a small telescope. Credit: ESO, IAU and Sky&Telescope
With professional telescopes such as the MPG/ESO 2.2-meter telescope at La Silla, which captured this image, NGC 6744 can be seen in all its glory. The dusty spiral arms are home to many glowing star-forming regions (seen in red) and give this Milky Way look-alike its striking spiral form.
This sequence starts with a view of the southern part of the Milky Way. As we zoom in we can first see the globular star cluster NGC 6752 and then the spiral galaxy NGC 6744, lying about 30 million light-years from us in the constellation of Pavo (The Peacock). We also catch a glimpse of the small irregular galaxy NGC 6744A, which lies close to NGC 6744. The final detailed view shows a new image of NGC 6744 from the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile. Credit:ESO/S. Brunier and Digitized Sky Survey 2. Music: John Dyson (from the album Moonwind)