I was talking with astronomer Ron Marzke the other day about "looking". After all, who is better at taking in massive amounts of visual data and making sense of it than the people trying to understand the structure of the universe? The ONLY input they have available to them is light, and from understanding the nuances of light alone have they been able to figure out the age of the universe (13.7 Billion years), its shape (flat) and where we sit in it (not in the center).
Ron's particular area of interest is in "large structures", which to the layperson means "galaxies". They are large: Galaxy M31 (a.k.a. Andromeda) is about 110,000 light years across. The spaces between galaxies are even larger: Andromeda is our nearest neighbor, and it still took the light we see of it more than 2 million years to reach us.
An interesting aspect of galaxies is that they travel in families: galaxies come in clusters with mama galaxies, papa galaxies, sister galaxies... and like many families, there's the occasional weird uncle galaxy. Such is the case with Andromeda. See that bright spot just below the main disk? That's M32.
What makes M32 unique is that it is a "Compact Elliptical Galaxy", relatively small, tightly compact and structurally unique. Although M32 was the first CEG to be discovered, many have been found since. But here's what makes M32 truly odd: M32 is the ONLY Compact Elliptical Galaxy known that is a companion to a spiral galaxy. Meet the Uncle Fester of the cosmos.
And this is what kind of pisses off astronomers: since the Cosmological Principle states that the universe has no center, why is it that the ONLY spiral companion CEG is right next to us!?
This is one of Ron's burning questions, and he's now looking for other CEGs. Talk about needing to be good at "looking": out of his initial sample size of about 100,000,000 celestial objects, he's hypothesizing that he might be able to find about 20.
Talk about looking for a needle in a haystack.