A Christmas galaxy in full view

Astronomy never stops; not even on 25 December. Hubble has spotted a beautiful galaxy first observed on Christmas Day 1837.

Published: November 29, 2021 at 10:51 am
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Spiral Galaxy NGC 1706

Spiral galaxy NGC 1706 was discovered on Christmas Day 1837 by British astronomer John Herschel, who could not have predicted the same galaxy would be observed nearly 200 years later by a huge telescope orbiting Earth.


Hubble astronomers have just released this beautiful image of the galaxy, which is located around 230 million lightyears away in Dorado (The Swordfish), a southern-sky constellation laden with deep-sky objects including a fair part of the Large Magellanic Cloud.

NGC 1706 is one of a trio of galaxies called the ESO 85-38 group. Zoom outwards and they are part of the 50-strong LDC357 group, a small subset of galaxies gravitationally bound and relatively close to one another.

About half of the galaxies we know of belong to a certain galaxy group, making these huge structures quite common in the Universe.

Our home galaxy the Milky Way belongs to the Local Group, which also contains the Andromeda Galaxy, the Small and Large Magellanic Clouds and the Triangulum Galaxy.

As you tuck into this year’s Christmas dinner, cast your mind back nearly two centuries to the astronomer John Herschel, who at that same moment may have been pointing his telescope to the sky and casting a human eye on this galactic beauty for the first time.


Image stats

  • Observatory Hubble Space Telescope
  • Release date 28 October 2019
  • Image credit ESA/Hubble & NASA, A. Bellini et al.


Iain Todd, BBC Sky at Night Magazine
Iain ToddScience journalist

Iain Todd is BBC Sky at Night Magazine's Staff Writer. He fell in love with the night sky when he caught his first glimpse of Orion, aged 10.


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