In archived NASA data, researchers have discovered 'super spiral' galaxies that dwarf our own spiral galaxy, the Milky Way, and compete in size and brightness with the largest galaxies in the universe.

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In archived NASA data, researchers have discovered "super spiral" galaxies that dwarf our own spiral galaxy, the Milky Way, and compete in size and brightness with the largest galaxies in the universe. The unprecedented galaxies have long hidden in plain sight by mimicking the appearance of typical spirals.

Three examples of super spirals are presented here in images taken by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey.

The super spiral on the left (Figure 1), catalogued as 2MASX J08542169+0449308, contains two galactic nuclei, instead of just the usual one, and thus looks like two eggs frying in a pan.

The central image (Figure 2) shows a super spiral designated 2MASX J16014061+2718161, and it also contains the double nuclei.

On the right (Figure 3), a huge galaxy with the moniker SDSS J094700.08+254045.7 stands as one of the biggest and brightest super spirals. The mega-galaxy's starry disk and spiral arms stretch about 320,000 light-years across, or more than three times the breadth of the Milky Way.

These double nuclei, which are known to result from the recent merger of two galaxies, could offer a vital hint about the potential origin of super spirals. Researchers speculate that a special merger involving two, gas-rich spiral galaxies could see their pooled gases settle down into a new, larger stellar disk -- presto, a super spiral.

The super spirals were discovered using the NASA/IPAC Extragalactic Database, or NED, an online repository containing information on over 100 million galaxies. NED brings together a wealth of data from many different projects, including ultraviolet light observations from the Galaxy Evolution Explorer, visible light from Sloan Digital Sky Survey, infrared light from the 2-Micron All-Sky Survey, and links to data from other missions such as NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope and Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE.

NED is hosted at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center, or IPAC, at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

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