Jan 14, 2013 09:23 AM ET // by Irene Klotz
As far as spiral galaxies go, the Milky Way is a relative pipsqueak, especially when compared to one known as NGC 6872, a barred spiral galaxy located some 212 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Pavo.
Spanning 522,000 light-years from end to end — roughly five times larger than the Milky Way — NGC 6872 has been crowned the king of spiral galaxies, based on an analysis of data gathered by NASA’s Galaxy Evolution Explorer telescope.
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Fueling the galaxy’s growth is its ongoing interaction with a small disk galaxy, known as IC 4970, which is visible only in ultraviolet light.
Computer simulations indicate the dwarf galaxy, which is about one-fifth the size of the spiral galaxy, made its closest pass by NGC 6872 about 130 million years ago. Its gravitational tugging kicked up a flurry of star formation in the process.