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Needle Galaxy

C38, NGC 4565

A large and luminous spiral galaxy lying approximately 39 million light years from the Milky Way Galaxy in the direction of the constellation Coma Berenices. This galaxy appears almost exactly edge-on as seen from Earth, so that its spiral arms appear straight and thin, tapering out from the bright central bulge to reach a point on either side (giving rise to the name 'Needle Galaxy'). This orientation makes it difficult to classify its spiral structure: it may be either a simple spiral or a barred spiral in form.

Like many spiral galaxies seen edge-on like this one, a dark line runs along the plane of the galaxy's arms. This dark and mottled dustlane represents the dark material extending through the galactic disc (just as similar dustlanes within our own Galaxy give rise to the dark bands of the Milky Way running across the sky). In common with other large galaxies of this kind, the Needle Galaxy has a number of smaller satellite galaxies, and a halo containing hundreds of globular star clusters.

The Needle Galaxy forms a part of the Coma I Group of galaxies, a galactic group clustering some forty to fifty million light years from the Milky Way in the direction of the Northern Galactic Pole (that is, the group lies almost directly perpendicular to the Milky Way's galactic plane). The Coma I Group is formed from two smaller subgroups of galaxies, and the massive Needle Galaxy lies at the heart of one of these two subgroups.

The Needle Galaxy is not to be confused with the similarly-named Silver Needle Galaxy (C26 or NGC 4244). Apart from sharing a 'Needle' name, both these galaxies share a similar structure and orientation, and so appear rather alike as seen from Earth. They are, however, quite unrelated to one another, and at a distance of less than seven million light years, the Silver Needle Galaxy lies much closer to the Milky Way than the 'true' Needle Galaxy.


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