By David Salazar ( | First Posted: Jan 11, 2013 07:39 AM EST
Tags science

This composite of the spiral galaxy NGC 6872 combines visible light images from the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope with far-ultraviolet data from NASA's GALEX and infrared data acquired by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. The spiral is 522,000 light-years across from armtip to armtip, which makes NGC 6872 about 5 times the size of the Milky Way.
(Photo : CREDIT: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/ESO/JPL-Caltech/DSS )

A team of astronomers from USA and South American countries of Chile and Brazil have determined NGC 6872 to be the largest spiral galaxy discovered to date in the universe.

According to, the size of NGC 6872 is said to five times larger than the Milky Way Galaxy and is found 212 million light-years away in the southern constellation Pavo. The spiral galaxy had long been considered one of the largest known spiral galaxies for decades, but after analysis of data of NASA's Galaxy Evolution Explorer mission (GALAX), the multinational astronomers confirmed to the galaxy's feat.

"Without GALEX's ability to detect the ultraviolet light of the youngest, hottest stars, we would never have recognized the full extent of this intriguing system," said lead scientist Rafael Eufrasio, a research assistant at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., during a meeting of the American Astronomical Society. 

According to, the unusual size of NGC 6872 is a result of its interaction with a smaller disk galaxy named IC4970 which contains one one-fifth of the mass of the larger galaxy. The report also indicates that "large galaxies, including our own, grew through mergers and acquisitions-assembling over billions of years by absorbing numerous smaller systems."

The GALEX mission is led by the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and it is responsible for science operations and data analysis.

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