A face-on barred spiral that hints at Milky Way’s structure

Discovered by Scottish astronomer James Dunlop in 1826, NGC 986 is a spectacular face-on spiral galaxy in the constellation Fornax that is often overlooked thanks to its proximity to the famously rich Fornax galaxy cluster. Located about 56 million light years from Earth, NGC 986 features a central bar-like structure similar to one sported by the Milky Way and about two thirds of all spiral galaxies. Bars are thought to play a role in star formation, helping funnel gas inward from a galaxy’s spiral arms, and may be a temporary phenomena. This image was captured by the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope and the FORS instrument, or FOcal Reducer and low dispersion Spectrograph.

NGC 986. Image: ESO