NGC 6503, the Lost-in-Space Galaxy

This NASA/ESA HUbble Space Telescope image shows galaxy NGC 6503. The galaxy, which lies 18 million light-years away, is at the edge of a strangely empty patch of space called the Local Void. This new image shows a very rich set of colours, adding to the detail seen in previous images.

This NASA/ESA HUbble Space Telescope image shows galaxy NGC 6503. The galaxy, which lies 18 million light-years away, is at the edge of a strangely empty patch of space called the Local Void. This new image shows a very rich set of colours, adding to the detail seen in previous images.

Thanks to gravity, most galaxies clump together in groups or clusters, so a neighboring galaxy is usually never far away. But the galaxy NGC 6503 has found itself in a lonely position, perched at the edge of a strangely empty patch of space called the Local Void. The galaxy is near enough and bright enough to spot with a small telescope in the northern constellation Draco, the Dragon.

The Local Void is a huge stretch of space that is at least 150 million light-years across. It appears empty of stars or galaxies. NGC 6503’s odd location on the edge of this void led some stargazers to call it the “Lost-In-Space galaxy”.

NGC 6503 is 18 million light-years away from us in the northern circumpolar constellation of Draco. It’s some 30,000 light-years across, about a third of the size of the Milky Way, and is classified as a dwarf spiral galaxy.

The Hubble Space Telescope image (above) shows NGC 6503 in striking detail and with a rich set of colors. Bright red patches of gas can be seen scattered through its swirling spiral arms, mixed with bright blue regions that contain newly forming stars. Dark brown dust lanes snake across the galaxy’s bright arms and center, giving it a mottled appearance. Courtesy of NASA/HST.

Location of galaxy NGC 6503 in the constellation Draco.

Location of galaxy NGC 6503 in the constellation Draco.

It takes a little gumption to see this galaxy for yourself. NGC 6503 is magnitude 10.2, so you’ll need reasonably dark sky to spot it with a 3″or 4” telescope. It is a tilted spiral, so it retains a high surface brightness. The galaxy sits on a line between the stars chi (χ) and zeta (ζ) Draconis, about 1/3 of the way from the former to the latter. Unlike many objects of comparable brightness, NGC 6503 was overlooked for a long time. The German university student Arthur von Auwers first saw the galaxy with a 2.6-inch telescope in 1854. Located not far from the Little Dipper, this object is not visible in the southern hemisphere.

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