The Sunflower Galaxy

The sunflower galaxy, also known as Messier 63 or M63, is a stunning spiral galaxy that captivates astronomers and space enthusiasts with its unique appearance and intricate structure. This galaxy gets its name from its resemblance to the vibrant and symmetrical petals of a sunflower. In this article, we will explore the captivating features and fascinating characteristics of the sunflower galaxy.

Sunflower galaxy
Image: NASA

Characteristics of The Sunflower Galaxy

Messier 63 belongs to the category of spiral galaxies, characterized by their prominent spiral arms that radiate from a central bulge. These galaxies are classified as type SABc, indicating an intermediate structure between a barred and a non-barred spiral galaxy.

The most distinctive feature of the sunflower galaxy is its spiral arms, which extend from the central region and wrap around the galactic disk. These arms are composed of interstellar gas, dust, and a multitude of stars, showcasing intricate patterns and intricate structures.

Observations and Discoveries

The first recorded observation of the sunflower galaxy dates back to 1779 when French astronomer Pierre Méchain discovered it. Charles Messier later added it to his catalog, Messier 63. Since then, advancements in astronomical technology have allowed for more detailed observations and discoveries regarding the nature of these galaxies.

The sunflower galaxy often display bright knots or patches of star formation within its spiral arms. These regions, known as H II regions, are sites of active starbirth, where hot, young stars are formed from the gravitational collapse of interstellar gas and dust. The high levels of star formation contribute to the vibrant colors and luminosity observed in this galaxy.

Moreover, studies have revealed the presence of a central bar structure within some spiral galaxies. These bars are elongated regions of stars and gas that cross the galactic center, connecting the spiral arms. The presence of a bar can influence the dynamics of a galaxy, affecting the motion of stars and the distribution of interstellar material.

Image: NASA

Evolution and Interaction

M63 is subject to various evolutionary processes, including interactions and mergers with other galaxies. Interactions with neighboring galaxies can trigger intense star formation and lead to the distortion of the spiral structure. These interactions may also result in the formation of tidal tails or bridges, as gravitational forces disrupt the normal equilibrium of the galaxy.


The sunflower galaxy, with its striking spiral arms and mesmerizing structures, provides a window into the vast and complex nature of the universe. Through detailed observations and studies, astronomers continue to unravel the mysteries surrounding this galaxy, exploring its evolution, interactions, and the physical processes that shape its remarkable appearance.

As we delve deeper into the understanding of the sunflower galaxy, we gain valuable insights into the formation and dynamics of spiral galaxies, the processes of star formation, and the intricate interplay between gravitational forces and cosmic evolution.

The study of the sunflower galaxy not only enhances our knowledge of our own cosmic neighborhood but also contributes to our understanding of the broader universe and the diverse array of galaxies that inhabit it. This captivating galaxy serves as a reminder of the endless beauty and complexity that lie beyond our own planet, inspiring further exploration and discovery in the realm of astrophysics.

A Fascinating Journey into the Satellite System of the Seventh Planet

Uranus, the seventh planet from the Sun, is a captivating celestial object that has piqued the curiosity of astronomers and space enthusiasts alike. Among the many mysteries surrounding this distant giant, one intriguing question arises: How many moons does Uranus have? In this article, we will embark on an exploration of Uranus’ satellite system, shedding light on its diverse collection of moons and the discoveries made thus far.

How Many Moons does URanus have?
Rendering Credit: BBC

Discovering Uranus’ Moons

The quest to unveil Uranus’ moons began in 1781 when William Herschel first observed the planet. Initially, Herschel believed he had discovered rings encircling Uranus, but subsequent observations proved otherwise. It wasn’t until 1851 that William Lassell identified the first two moons of Uranus—Ariel and Umbriel. Since then, technological advancements and dedicated space missions have revealed more of Uranus’ enigmatic companions.

The Current Count

As of the latest knowledge, Uranus boasts a total of 27 confirmed moons. These moons are named after characters from the works of William Shakespeare and Alexander Pope. The five largest moons, known as the major moons, are Miranda, Ariel, Umbriel, Titania, and Oberon. They were discovered in the 19th century and remain the most well-studied of Uranus’ moons.

Uranus' Moons
Rendering Credit: BGR

The Major Moons of Uranus

  1. Miranda: Discovered in 1948 by Gerard Kuiper, Miranda stands out with its diverse and complex terrain. It features cliffs, canyons, and impact craters, suggesting a turbulent geological history. Miranda’s unique appearance has fueled scientific curiosity, making it an intriguing subject of study.
  2. Ariel: William Lassell discovered Ariel in 1851, just a few years after his initial discovery of Uranus’ moons. Ariel exhibits a relatively smooth surface, with few visible impact craters. Its geological activity, marked by fault systems and valleys, indicates that internal processes have shaped this moon over time.
  3. Umbriel: Also discovered by William Lassell in 1851, Umbriel is the darkest and most heavily cratered of Uranus’ major moons. Its surface is ancient and densely pockmarked with impact craters. Scientists believe that its craters formed early in the history of the solar system and have remained relatively unchanged since.
  4. Titania: Discovered in 1787 by William Herschel, Titania is the largest moon of Uranus and the eighth-largest moon in the solar system. Its surface exhibits a wide range of geological features, including valleys, craters, and rifts. Titania’s diverse topography suggests a complex geological history involving past tectonic and volcanic activity.
  5. Oberon: Also discovered by William Herschel in 1787, Oberon is the second-largest moon of Uranus and the tenth-largest moon in the solar system. Its surface is heavily cratered, similar to Umbriel, indicating a similar ancient history. Oberon’s dark patches and bright craters provide valuable insights into its composition and geological processes.

The Lesser Moons of Uranus

In addition to the major moons, Uranus possesses a number of smaller moons that continue to be the subject of ongoing research and discovery. Some of these lesser-known moons include Puck, Portia, Cressida, Desdemona, and Juliet, to name a few. While they may not receive as much attention as their larger counterparts, these moons contribute to our understanding of Uranus’ complex satellite system.

moons of Uranus
Image: NASA


Uranus’ moon system, consisting of 27 known moons, is a fascinating realm that offers valuable insights into the formation and evolution of this enigmatic planet. From the major moons with their diverse geological features and intriguing histories to the lesser-known moons that continue to be explored, each moon holds its own significance in unraveling the mysteries of Uranus.

While much progress has been made in understanding Uranus’ moons, there is still much to learn. Future missions and technological advancements will undoubtedly contribute to our knowledge of these celestial bodies. The exploration of Uranus’ moons not only expands our understanding of our own solar system but also provides crucial information for studying exoplanetary systems and the broader universe.

Furthermore, the study of Uranus’ moons helps us understand the dynamics of satellite systems, their interactions with their parent planets, and the various processes that shape their surfaces. By comparing the moon systems of different planets, we gain insights into the commonalities and variations in the formation and evolution of moons throughout the universe.

As our understanding of Uranus’ moons continues to grow, so does our appreciation for the complexity and diversity of the celestial bodies in our solar system. These moons, with their distinct characteristics and histories, showcase the incredible beauty and scientific significance of our neighboring worlds.

Uranus possesses a total of 27 confirmed moons, each with its own unique story to tell. From the well-studied major moons to the lesser-known satellites, Uranus’ moon system offers a wealth of information and challenges our understanding of planetary formation and dynamics. As we push the boundaries of exploration and scientific discovery, the mysteries surrounding Uranus and its moons will continue to captivate and inspire future generations of astronomers and space enthusiasts.

JUICE: The Fascinating Launch That Could Change The Way We Look At Jupiter’s Moons Forever

The European Space Agency (ESA) heads for Jupiter in 2023! The spacecraft will launch from South America and arrive at Jupiter in 2031. After orbit insertion at Jupiter, the spacecraft will spend three years observing both Jupiter and three of its largest moons.  

The mission is the first “large class” mission in the ESA’s Cosmic Vision 2015-2025 program. JUICE (JUpiter ICy moons Explorer) is the ESA’s project. The spacecraft will spend seven or eight years traveling toward Jupiter with a tentative arrival date/Jupiter orbit date of 2031.

The mission will conclude when the spacecraft intentionally crashes into one of Jupiter’s moons.

European Space Agency Rendering of JUICE

Flight Paths

The flight path from Earth to Jupiter will last approximately seven to eight years. The spacecraft will orbit Jupiter’s moons for about three and a half years collecting data. 

Flight Path to Jupiter

The JUICE mission will launch from the European Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. The Ariane 5, “The Heavy Launcher,” will carry the spacecraft.  

The spacecraft will take advantage of gravity assists from Earth (three different times!), Venus and Mars to increase the spacecraft velocity and reduce the flight time.

Flight Path around Jupiter’s Moons

JUICE will use the gravity from Ganymede, Callisto, and Europa to adjust its flight trajectory during flybys past each moon to stabilize and optimize its orbit. JUICE will collect data from Jupiter, Callisto, and Europa during the flybys.  

JUICE will be placed into a highly elliptical orbit around Ganymede before the mission’s conclusion. 


In 2022, the ESA finalized the launch window for the JUICE mission. Launching the spacecraft within this time window will allow gravity assistance from the Earth and Venus.

April 5th-25th 2023Launch
August 2024Earth flyby-Gravitational Assist (1)
August 2025Venus flyby
September 2026Earth flyby-Gravitational Assist (2)
January 2029Earth flyby-Gravitational Assist (3)
July 2031Enter Jupiter Orbit
July 2032Europa flybys
August 2032-August 2033Callisto flybys
December 2034Enter Ganymede orbit
+200 DAYSPossible mission extension
September 2035Crash spacecraft into Ganymede

Mission Objective

JUICE has different objectives for three of Jupiter’s moons, Ganymede, Callisto, and Europa.


  1. Ocean water (sub-surface) characterization
  2. Search for theoretical subsurface water reservoirs 
  3. Mapping the surface of the moon
    1. Topographical
    2. Geological
    3. Compositional
  4. Moons core characterization
    1. Internal mass distribution
    2. Evolution and dynamics.
  5. Exosphere 
  6. Magnetic fields
Rendering Credit: NASA


Ganymede and Callisto have the same objectives. 


  1. Organic molecules
  2. Formation of surface crust
  3. Non-water-ice elemental composition

What are Scientists the Most Excited About?

In a word, Habitability. Planetary scientists spent decades looking for planets in our galaxy similar to Earth in relation to their atmosphere and elemental composition.  

Today scientists have shifted their telescope lens (so to speak) and are instead looking at planets and moons that might have subsurface oceans that can support life. 

The Galilean moons of Jupiter are more similar to other planets than they are to other moons. Long considered dormant, cold, icy blocks of ice, the Galilean moons have planetary scientists enthused about potentially habitable underground oceans. There are two vital primary questions planetary scientists hope to be able to answer based on the data from JUICE.

  1. Does extra-terrestrial life exist? (Hint: Think single-cell organisms, not sharks and whales.)
  2. How are planets formed?
JUICE and Jupiter
Rendering Credit: Airbus

It’s Getting Busy Around Jupiter’s Moons!

The European Space Agency, NASA, and China are planning large-scale missions to Jupiter and its moons in the coming years. 

  • The ESA will launch the JUICE mission in 2022.
  • NASA plans to send the Europa Clipper toward Jupiter’s moon Europa in 2024. The spacecraft should arrive around the same time window as the ESA’s JUICE. The Clipper will collect data to allow scientists to understand its capability of supporting life.  
  • China announced they’ll send the Tianwwen 4 to Jupiter’s moon Callisto in 2030. According to the China National Space Administration, “The scientific goals are still under consideration.”

Launch Time!

The eyes of the world will be on the JUICE mission when it arrives at Jupiter’s moons. With an eight-year flight time and a three to four-year mission after arriving at Jupiter, JUICE will send data for scientists to evaluate and debate for a long time. We can’t wait! 

The 2 Unbelievable Voyager Explorations

The Voyager spacecraft were launched in 1977. Today, 46 years later, both spacecraft continue to transmit data back to Earth. NASA hoped the spacecraft would remain functional for five years!    

The primary mission of the spacecraft was the exploration of Jupiter, Saturn, their rings, and their moons.  Once the primary missions were complete, Voyager 2’s trajectory was modified to send it past Uranus and Neptune. 

To date, Voyager 2  is the only exploration to have collected data from the ice-giants Neptune and Uranus. Today both Voyagers are traveling toward far-flung constellations. 

Voyager 2
Rendering Credit: NASA

Mission Milestones

Two Voyager spacecraft were launched in 1977.  The first spacecraft launched was named Voyager 2. The second spacecraft launched was Voyager 1.  Voyager 1 was given the “1” after its name because it would reach Jupiter and Saturn before Voyager 2.  

EventVoyager 1Voyager 2
Spacecraft LaunchSept. 5, 1977Aug. 20, 1977
Jupiter flybyMar. 5, 1979Jul. 9, 1979
Saturn flybyNov. 12, 1980August 26, 1981
Uranus flybyJan. 24, 1986
Neptune flybyAug. 25, 1989
Interstellar Space EnteredAug. 1, 2012Dec. 10, 2018
Fired trajectory correction thrustersJuly 8, 2019

Where are they today?

Today both Voyagers are a long, long distance away from Earth.  Even though Voyager 2 launched before Voyager 1, Voyager 1 is traveling faster.  

Voyager 1Voyager 2
Approximate distance from Earth (Miles)14.8 billion12.2 billion
Speed (mph)38,02634,390
Communication Lag (hh:mm:ss)22:05:2818:25:45

Fun fact: Each year, between late February and early June the Earth is moving towards the Voyagers faster than the Voyagers are traveling away from Earth.  The distance from Earth to the Voyagers decreases!  As the Earth travels (in orbit around the Sun) further away from the Voyagers, the distance increases.  When space agencies discussion planetary exploration “launch windows”, this is what they’re discussing.

Why is Voyager 1 further away from Earth than Voyager 2?

The speed of Voyager 2 decreased after its flyby with Nepture and its moon Triton.  

  • The optimal trajectory would maximize the effect of a planetary slingshot and increase the spacecraft’s speed.  
  • A second trajectory was utilized to maximize Voyager 2’s ability to collect data from a closer flyby of Triton.  (Does it matter if Voyager 2 reaches a “destination” in 42,000 years versus 40,000 years?)  
Photo Credit: NASA

Where are they going?

Now that they’ve completed their missions within our solar system, where are the Voyagers going?

Voyager 1

Headed toward the constellation Ophiuchus.  The estimated arrival date is the year 38,249 AD.  Voyager 1 will pass 1.7 light years from Gliese 445.  NASA didn’t have a specific plan on where to send Voyager 1 after it completed its Saturn and Titan flybys.  Gliese 445 was more or less straight ahead, so that’s the direction Voyager 1 is heading.

Voyager 2

Headed toward the constellations of Pavo and Sagitarrius.  The estimated arrival date is in the year 42,023 AD.  Voyager will pass roughly 1.7 light years away from Ross 248. 

Voyager discoveries

  • Jupiter
    • Interacting hurricane-like storms
    • Erupting volcanos on Lo
    • Hints of an ocean beneath Europa
    • One new moon
  • Saturn
    • Small moons in the F-Ring
    • Titan has a dense nitrogen atmosphere 
    • Methane clouds and rain
  • Uranus
    • Ten new moons
    • Five new rings
    • Two new rings
    • An ocean of boiling water roughly 500  miles below the cloud tops
  • Neptune
    • Five new moons
    • Four new rings
    • Great dark spot
    • 1,000 Mile Per Hour winds
    • Trition has erupting geysers
  • Interstellar
    • The heliosphere, the location where interstellar space starts and the suns solar winds stop, isn’t the shape that astronomers expected to be.  
    • Cosmic rays are 3X stronger outside the heliosphere than inside it
    • Small amounts of gas detected in interstellar space.
Saturn and its rings
Photo Credit: NASA

Wrap up

The Voyagers will soon fall silent and cease broadcasting data as their power supplies are expended.  Yet, Voyager’s mission to address the fundamental questions of science remains unanswered.  What is the universe made of? Where did life begin? Are we alone in the universe?  

Perhaps 40,000 years from now, one of the Voyager spacecraft will invoke questions about Earth from a civilization far away from Earth’s shores. 

The Universe and The Monstrous Celestial Bodies That Make It Up

The largest celestial bodies ranging from the planets to the stars, solar systems, galaxies, galactic clusters, and superclusters.

As an illustration, available data suggests that the Earth (measuring over 40, 000km across) is only about 0.12 pixels as seen from space! Indeed the cosmos is so vast that only by numbers can we attempt to comprehend its magnificence.

Photo Credit: Jeremy Thomas

The Largest Planet in the Universe

Earth is our home planet and by now and through scientific knowledge, we know that life does not revolve around earth alone. Earth has a diameter of roughly 12, 756 km. It is one of the eight planets in our Solar System.

Speaking of which, the largest planet in our Solar System is Jupiter with a radius of 69,911km (or diameter of 139, 822 km). However, the largest known planet in the Universe is an exoplanet (planet outside our Solar System) called ROXs 42Bb. It is roughly 2.5x the size of Jupiter.

The Largest Star in the Universe 

The Sun is one of the most recognizable and familiar stars that can be seen from earth. It appears bigger only because it is closer. It is by no means the biggest star, not even in our local Solar System, even though it can contain 1 million Earths.

The biggest star in the Universe would be either the Stephenson 2-18 or the UY-Scuti. The former is being contested leaving the UY-Scuti as the next best option. To put it in perspective, it has a radius 1,700 times larger than that of the Sun or a volume large enough to swallow 5 billion Suns.

The Largest Solar System in the Universe 

Our Solar System comprises the Sun (also a star) at its center, eight planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune) orbiting around it, 146 moons, comets, asteroids and space rocks, ice, and dwarf planets such as Pluto.

Other than this, there are countless other solar systems in existence scattered across the vast cosmos. So, which is the largest solar system of them all? That would be the 2MASS J2126-840. Its orbit is said to be 140x that of Pluto’s.

Photo Credit: David Menidrey

The Largest Galaxy in the Universe

A galaxy typically comprises a huge collection of gas, dust, and billions of stars along with their respective solar systems, all bound together by gravity. The galaxy to which we belong is called the Milky Way. It is a spiral galaxy with more than 100 billion stars.

And no, that’s not the biggest galaxy in the universe. That title belongs to Alcyoneus. This gigantic galaxy’s diameter is 16.3 million light-years across! This means that at a speed of approximately 3 x 108m/s, it’ll still take light 16.3 million years to travel across it.

The Largest Galaxy Cluster in the Universe

A galactic cluster is a group of gravitationally bound galaxies that come together to form a cluster. Now, imagine that a 6-million light-years-long galaxy like the IC 1011 combines with other gigantic galaxies to form a cluster!

It gets even bigger considering that some galaxy clusters can have hundreds and thousands of galaxies. The Local Group to which our Milky Way belongs, has a diameter of 1, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000 km. But the largest known galaxy cluster is El Gordio.

The Largest Galaxy Supercluster in the Universe

And just when you thought you’ve seen it all, it gets much bigger as the Universe shows off its Superclusters. As the name suggests, these are clusters of galaxy clusters. These clusters of galactic clusters are simply humongous in size.

Our own supercluster is the Laniakea Supercluster, home to around 100, 000 galaxies. However, it pales in comparison to the Hercules-Corona Borealis Great Wall, the largest known single entity in the Universe. This Supercluster is 10 billion light-years across.

cosmic Largesse
Photo Credit: Bryan Goff

The Largest Object in the Universe

As far as the Universe is concerned, the only single entity bigger than the Hercules-Corona Borealis Great Wall supercluster is the Universe itself! As tremendous as this galactic supercluster is, it still doesn’t come close to the known Universe.

The known Universe is believed to be 13.7 billion years old and is said to span across more than 93 billion light years of space. This does not account for the yet unknown universe, nor the probable multiverse. The Universe is simply put, mind-boggling.

To say that these numbers are out of this world would be putting it mildly. The universe is extremely vast and there are no words to quantify it, only numbers will do.

10 Fun Facts About Galaxies

Galaxies are important building blocks of the Universe as we know it. Whether you know little or nada about galaxies, we’re here to help. This post will highlight 10 fun facts about galaxies that you probably didn’t know.

The Universe is home to numerous celestial bodies that are strategically distributed throughout space. Including planets, planetary systems, suns, moons, solar systems, and of course, galaxies, among others.

Photo Credit: Graham Holtshausen

Fun Fact #1: Galaxies are Almost as Old as the Universe

If you’ve ever wondered how old galaxies are, here’s the answer. Galaxies are believed to be anywhere around 13.5 billion years. They are believed to have started forming a few hundred million years after the Big Bang which occurred 13.7 billion years ago.

Fun Fact #2: Galaxies Used to Be Known as Island Universes

Philosopher, Immanuel Kant theorized that other galaxies (known as island universes) existed outside the Milky Way. Astronomers like Harlow Shapley argued otherwise. However, in the 1920s, Edwin Hubble was able to establish their existence, calling them “extragalactic nebulae.” 

Fun Fact 3#: Galaxies Comprise of Dust, Gas, and Matter

Galaxies typically consist of gas, interplanetary dust, stars, and their solar systems (including their moons, dwarf planets, asteroids, meteoroids, Kuiper belt objects, and comets, etc). All of these are gravitationally bound together.

Fun Fact #4: There are 4 Major Types of Galaxies

Galaxies come in different forms, shapes, and sizes. This has given rise to a system of classification for easy reference. The first type of galaxy is the spiral galaxy. Others include elliptical galaxies, peculiar galaxies, and irregular galaxies. 

Facts about galaxies
Photo Credit: Benjamin Voros

Fun Fact #5: Our Galaxy Goes By Different Names

Our galaxy, a.k.a the Galaxy, is generally known as the Milky Way. However, that’s not its only nomenclature. It is also known as the “Silver River” in China. In the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa, it is referred to as the “Backbone of Night.”  

Fun Fact #6: Why Our Galaxy is Called the Milky Way

Our star, the Sun, is one of the billions of stars swirling in the Milky Way. It is described this way due to its appearance when viewed from earth. There’s also a Greek myth about the goddess, Hera, spraying milk across the sky.

Fun Fact #7: Galaxies are Gigantic 

Humongous doesn’t even begin to describe how monumental galaxies can be. For instance, the largest known galaxy, Alcyoneus, has a diameter of 16.3 million light-years, that’s nearly 3x the nearest contender, the IC 1011 with a diameter of 6 million light-years. 

Fun Fact #8: Galaxies are Numerous

From assuming that the Milky Way was the only galaxy, we now know that there are in fact, billions of galaxies out there. Each of these galaxies also contains numerous stars. For instance, the largest galaxy contains 100 trillion stars.  

Fun Fact #9: You Can See Some Galaxies With the Naked Eyes

Yes, you can view up to two galaxies with unaided eyes. These are our own Milky Way and the Andromeda galaxy. Although you won’t be able to view it in full, you can still see parts of them in a clear night sky.

Fun Fact #10: This is the Loneliest Galaxy in the Universe

Galaxies typically exist in groups or clusters. Each cluster can accommodate 100 to 1, 000 galaxies. These are also much larger superclusters, as well as superclusters of superclusters. But the NGC 503 is an exception. It holds the title of the world’s loneliest galaxy!

Now That You Know

Now that you know more fun facts about galaxies, we invite you to explore more about galaxies vs the universe. This will help to broaden your knowledge about how galaxies and the universe relate and function.