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The Coma Cluster of Galaxies
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Courtesy of NASA.

Elliptical Galaxies

Elliptical galaxies come in a range of shapes and sizes. They can be circular or egg-shaped. They can be very large and bright (giants!) or rather small and dim (dwarfs!). We can learn about how these galaxies formed and evolved from their size and shape.

If you have the chance to see one through a small telescope, it will probably look just like a fuzzy smudge to you, a piece of lint. But it is really formed of many billions of stars orbitting the center of the galaxy just as the Sun is orbiting the center of our galaxy. All the light of the galaxy comes from the stars. Elliptical galaxies are old. They formed all their stars a long time ago, and are no longer making new stars.

Galaxies like to live together in groups called clusters. In clusters, elliptical galaxies are the most common type of galaxy. In our group of galaxies, for example, there are no giant ellipticals, but many dwarf ellipticals orbiting both the Milky Way and the Andromeda galaxy.

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The Fall 2009 issue of The Earth Scientist, which includes articles on student research into building design for earthquakes and a classroom lab on the composition of the Earth’s ancient atmosphere, is available in our online store.

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