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Galaxy Group Hickson 44

About 60 million light years away, in the constellation of Leo, sits this magnificent group of galaxies, number 44 in a catalog of 100 such clusters compiled by astronomer Paul Hickson. This scene is an interesting study in the range of galaxy types. Just above center is NGC 3190, a striking spiral that we see nearly edge on. The dust lane traversing it is characteristic of spiral galaxies. To the left is NGC 3193, a good example of an elliptical galaxy. To the upper right is NGC 3187, another spiral, but with a prominent central bar. To the lower right is NGC 3185. This is also a barred spiral, but its bar is subtle and much smaller relative to its overall size.

The galaxies in Hickson 44 are close enough that they interact with each other gravitationally. This causes the individual galaxies to become distorted and in some cases even share material. If you look closely, you may notice a faint halo around NGC 3190, and also a very subtle smudge of light between it and NGC 3193, a bridge of stars being shared between the two giants as they embrace in their cosmic dance.

Finally, inspect the background of the field and you will find hundreds of tiny yellowish and reddish objects. These are not stars, but extremely distant galaxies, hundreds of millions of light years away. This awesome backdrop almost makes the galaxies of the main group group seem close by!