Monday, April 16, 2012

The Nearest Galaxy May Be Closer Than You Think!

One of my quirks as a SFR writer is that I have a hard time buying stories set outside our own galaxy.  The distances are just too enormous unless the writer is employing some sort of galaxy-to-galaxy wormhole. And besides...why set a story outside the Milky Way when there's just so much interesting stuff that happens right here?

Recently, I started researching a short story about a scientist who studies Andromeda, and the Pandora's Box of Understanding suddenly began to open up. The little knowledge gremlins it released were startling, surprising, and totally turned my understanding of the Milky Way on its ear.

I wrote a guest blog on our nearest spiral galaxy in Andromeda: A Million Stars Coming at You.  But Andromeda isn't the nearest galaxy to the Milky Way.

So what is?

The answer may surprise you.

The closest galaxy to the Milky Way is the Canis Major Dwarf Galaxy, and it's only 25,000 light years away. But wait. The center of the Milky Way is only 30,000 light years away from our Solar System. How can another galaxy be closer? Because it's in the process of being assimilated by the Milky Way!

The Canis Major Dwarf Galaxy was discovered in 2003 when astronomers analyzed infrared images of the Milky Way. This images let astronomers to see through the gas and dust in the galactic disk. Since Canis Major has a lot of M-Dwarf stars, these cool, red stars shine brightly in the infrared spectrum and stand out in infrared images. As galaxies go, Canis Major Dwarf Galaxy is, well...dwarfed by most others. It only has about a billion stars. The Milky Way has 200 to 400 billion stars.

Like Andromeda, The Milky Way is a monster that has grown to the size it is now by consuming other smaller galaxy--like the Canis Major Dwarf Galaxy. Many stars from Canis Major are already part of the Milky Way, making it not only the nearest galaxy to the Milky Way, but part of the Milky Way itself!

You can read more about Canis Major Dwarf Galaxy on the Universe Today site.

The Galaxy Series: Part III

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