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No. 54: Nov-Dec 1987

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Icebergs and crouching giants

Astronomers have discovered what they believe is the largest, darkest, most gas-rich spiral galaxy known in a 'void' beyond the Virgo Cluster of Galaxies. Discovered by accident on long-exposure photographic plates, the object, called Malin 1, appears to be still forming.


"'We didn't expect to find anything like this,' (C.) Impey says, referring to Malin 1. 'This galaxy is far removed from our ideas of what a normal galaxy should look like. There could be more of these things that haven't been discovered yet.'"

(Anonymous; "Massive, Dark Galaxy Found in Void," Astronomy, 15:75, September 1987.)

The same discovery is dealt with, in a more technical way, in Nature. A revealing paragraph from the Nature article follows:

"Although Malin 1 could be a unique case there is in fact a significant body of circumstantial evidence to suggest otherwise. Our present knowledge of the galaxy population is so biased by a single insidious selection effect that it is entirely possible that Malin 1 is just the first example of a class of such low-surface-brightness giant galaxies that forms a significant constituent of the universe."

The "selection effect" mentioned is a consequence of the very bright sky that confronts astronomers. Astronomical interest and instrumentation have focussed on those astronomical objects that are bright. In truth, the universe may be full of "icebergs and crouching giants." (Disney, Michael, and Phillipps, Steven; "Icebergs and Crouching Giants," Nature, 329:203, 1987.)

Comment. Since astronomers have built their models of galaxies, galactic distribution, and the evolution of the universe on an unrepresentative portion of the actual cosmos, we may be in for some major changes in our overall view of the universe and its beginning -- if it actually had one.

From Science Frontiers #54, NOV-DEC 1987. 1987-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987