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A stealth galaxy arrives
An editorial / By Dale McFeatters
Scripps Howard News Service


January 12, 2006

If you're prone to brooding about what's going on in outer space, this New York Times story had an arresting lead:

"A previously unrecognized galaxy appears to be merging with the Milky Way, bringing hundreds of thousands of stars into our home galaxy that no one has noticed until now, astronomers said Monday."

That's disconcerting news, that a galaxy, even a dwarf galaxy as this one is believed to be, can sneak up on us and mingle with our stars like a gate crasher at a cocktail party. Indeed, it has sidled up to about 30,000 light-years from Earth.

It seems a case of classic infiltration tactics: Get in close and mingle unobtrusively. The intruders were there to be seen, but, writes reporter Warren Leary, "no one realized they belonged to another body because they were so close and commingled with Milky Way stars." Just like the aliens in science-fiction flicks.

The acquisition of a subsidiary galaxy was described at the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society, who were meeting, as it happens, for the 207th time, speaking of impressive numbers.

It has long been known that Polaris, the North Star, certainly one of the more essential stars here on Earth, has a backup, Polaris B. Now thanks to the Hubble space telescope, the society learned that there's yet a third pole star, Polaris Ab, so we're in no danger of running out of north stars, if you worry about that kind of thing.

The Milky Way is immense - more than 200 billion stars and 100,000 light-years across - and Earth is a beyond-infinitesimal part of it. But, still, the Milky Way is our galaxy, and the arrival of an interloper in our midst seems to call for some kind of reaction. How about, "Welcome"?


Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)
Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

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