Why this galaxy on this particular night? Simply because it was a relatively bright object that was high in the sky within Leo and facing south, the direction of least obstruction from my local observing position. One of the best tips I learned about observing deep sky objects, in particular galaxies, is to never underestimate the benefits of superior elevation.
Setting up my video telescope at its maximum integration time of 10 seconds, I wasn’t holding too much hope of anything spectacular appearing from these semi light polluted skies. I was thankfully mistaken.
Despite its staggering distance of nearly 30 million light years, the video screen began resolving a beautifully presented barred spiral galaxy with easily discernible spiral pathways, surrounding a very bright core. I’m always in awe when viewing distant galaxies like this in real time. The main idea that captures my imagination is the understanding of what makes up those dim dust lanes – billions of suns!
NGC 2903 is only slightly smaller than our own Milky Way at over 80,000 light years across and is very similar in structure to our own island universe. Its central bar is a common feature in spiral galaxies found in around two thirds of them. The formation of these bar structures is still poorly understood. The most popular hypothesis is due to a density wave propagating from the galactic core, reshaping surrounding dust into a long column. In general these structures indicate relative maturity for a galaxy – younger galactic siblings don’t have them.