'Bubble Galaxy' NGC 3521

Marvel at this great picture of NGC 3521, a spiral galaxy 35 million light years from Earth.


(NASA's picture of NGC 3521)

Spanning some 50,000 light-years the galaxy sports characteristic patchy, irregular spiral arms laced with dust, pink star forming regions, and clusters of young, blue stars. Remarkably, this deep image also finds NGC 3521 embedded in gigantic bubble-like shells. The shells are likely tidal debris, streams of stars torn from satellite galaxies that have undergone mergers with NGC 3521 in the distant past.

Science fiction writers love the image of the "island galaxy" or "bubble galaxy" and build them into their stories. For example, in his classic 1937 short story Fessenden's Worlds, early science fiction great Edmond Hamilton paints a picture of a miniature universe:

It consisted of two twelve-foot metal disks with grid-like surfaces, one on the floor and one on the ceiling directly over the other...

Between the two disks, floating unsupported in the air, hung a cloud of tiny sparks of light. It looked like a swarm of minute golden bees, countless in number, and the swarm was lenticular in shape...

"Fessenden's eyes had been following my stupefied change of expression. He said calmly, "Yes, Bradley, it is true. That is a tiny, self-sustaining universe, with its own suns, nebulae and worlds. Everything in it, down to the atoms which compose it, is infinitely smaller in scale than our own. But it is a real universe, like our own."
(Read more about Hamilton's miniature universe)

Philip K. Dick had some fun with this idea in his 1953 short story The Trouble With Bubbles:

The Worldcraft bubble glittered, catching the light...

Lora turned on the bubble. It glowed, winking into brilliance...

She increased the magnification, bringing the microscopic central planet into focus...

Again Lora increased the magnification. The central planet grew, showing a pale green ocean lapping faintly at a low shoreline.
(Read more about Phil Dick's Worldcraft bubble)

I couldn't resist the short final sequence from the 1997 movie Men in Black, in which we learn our true place in the universe:

Thanks to Fred Kiesche of The Eternal Golden Braid for tweeting this item.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 9/18/2011)

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