“There is always a heavy demand for fresh mediocrity. In every generation the least cultivated taste has the largest appetite.” -Paul Gauguin
From our vantage point within the Milky Way, it sure does appear impressive. Hundreds of billions of stars shine in our own cosmic backyard, with our galaxy spanning a whopping 100,000 light years from end-to-end. Yet not only is that small compared to our nearest large neighbor, Andromeda, but it’s not even 20% as large as the largest spiral galaxies we find.
Severely disrupted galaxies, like NGC 6872, can extend for many times farther than a quiet galaxy that hasn’t had a major gravitational interaction. Image credit: ESO / VLT, Judy Schmidt.
While tidal disruption might create the largest spiral galaxies, we have giant ellipticals that are many times larger than a spiral will ever achieve. Some of the biggest ones of all are found at the centers of massive galaxy clusters, but in the scheme of the entire observable Universe, only one galaxy can truly be the largest.
The giant galaxy cluster, Abell 2029, houses galaxy IC 1101 at its core. At 5.5 million light years across, over 100 trillion stars and the mass of nearly a ...