Hubble and the Hidden Galaxy. If there were no Milky Way, it would be the brightest galaxy of all

The spiral galaxy IC 342 has made a comeback thanks to a new photo published by NASA and taken from the immense archives of the Hubble Space Telescope. Also known as Caldwell 5 the galaxy is famous for a peculiarity: if it were not for our Milky Way to “obscure” it, it would probably be the brightest galaxy of all in the sky. In fact, her nickname is: Hidden Galaxy.

A beautiful cradle for the stars

IC 342 is 11 million light years from Earth. A distance that does not bother her too much because she knows she is an incredibly bright and beautiful galaxy. It has intertwined arms of pink dust that extend in a diameter of 50,000 light years, and its core is made up of ionized atomic hydrogen – a region that is referred to in astronomy as H II.

This type of region is a kind of cradle for the stars. Thousands can be born in a couple of million years. Also in the new Hubble photo you can see lots of blue stars shining between the intertwined arms: they are very hot young stars that emit ultraviolet light and further ionize the surrounding hydrogen.

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Credit: NASA, ESA, P. Sell (University of Florida), and P. Kaaret (University of Iowa); Image processing: G. Kober (NASA Goddard / Catholic University of America)

The Milky Way, jealous, hides it

IC 342 has a magnitude of 8.4, yet from Earth we struggle to see it, because in the sky IC 342 is located near the equator of the Milky Way, which is a concentrate of cosmic gas, dust and very bright stars. IC 342 is in fact hidden by a curtain.

However, with a little bit of effort you can see it from here as well. The best time to look for Caldwell 5, which is in the constellation of Camelopardalis, it is late autumn and early winter in the Northern Hemispherebut you need clear nights and you need to stay as far away from city lights as possible.

Paradoxically, if our Milky Way were not there, or if the Earth was in a different position along its spiral, IC 342 would be one of the brightest galaxies in our sky.

Instead she is the hidden Galaxy and, beyond the obvious beauty, her charm also lies in the difficulty of being able to enjoy it from Earth.


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