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A light-year is the distance light travels in one year. It is 9.5 trillion (9,500,000,000,000) kilometers. The size of a galaxy may be as little as a thousand light-years across or as much as a million light-years across.

A galaxy contains stars, gas, and dust which are held together as a group by gravity. There may be millions, or even billions, of stars in one galaxy. There are billions of galaxies in the universe.

Galaxies are labeled according to their shape. Some galaxies are called "spiral", because they look like giant pinwheels in the sky. The galaxy we live in, the Milky Way, is a spiral galaxy. Some galaxies are called "elliptical", because they look like flat balls. A galaxy may be called "irregular" if it doesn't really have a shape. A new type of galaxy was discovered recently, called a "starburst" galaxy. In this type of galaxy, new stars just seem to 'burst out' very quickly.

Galaxy Types

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A Question

Which type of galaxy looks like a giant sky pinwheel?

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The Answer
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The StarChild site is a service of the High Energy Astrophysics Science Archive Research Center (HEASARC), Dr. Alan Smale (Director), within the Astrophysics Science Division (ASD) at NASA/ GSFC.

StarChild Authors: The StarChild Team
StarChild Graphics & Music: Acknowledgments
StarChild Project Leader: Dr. Laura A. Whitlock
Curator: J.D. Myers
Responsible NASA Official: Phil Newman