The stars dance with a spiral galaxy 80 million light-years away

Everything in this image is so far away that it defies our comprehension. And yet we're also looking at two vastly different scales here, as stars from well within our own galaxy share space with a far distant spiral galaxy.

This image from the Hubble Telescope is a simple but powerful reminder of how cosmic distances get exponentially bigger the further out you go. All the stars in this image are thousands of light-years away, and even with impossibly advanced technology it would take us countless lifetimes to reach even the closest one. And yet that's nothing compared to the main attraction of this image, the spiral galaxy NGC 6384, which at 80 million light-years away is many thousand times the distance of even the furthest stars in this image.

A NASA astronomer adds:

The universe is filled with galaxies. But to see them astronomers must look out beyond the stars of our galaxy, the Milky Way. For example, consider this colorful telescopic view of spiral galaxy NGC 6384, about 80 million light-years away in the direction of the constellation Ophiuchus. At that distance, NGC 6384 spans an estimated 150,000 light-years. The sharp image shows details in the distant galaxy's blue spiral arms and yellowish core. Still, the individual stars seen in the picture are all in the close foreground, well within our own galaxy. The brighter Milky Way stars show noticeable crosses, or diffraction spikes, caused by the telescope itself.

The closest I can come to comprehending the difference in magnitude we see in this picture is to think about what was happening on Earth when the light from these various objects began their journey. For instance, when the light left some of these stars on their journey of thousands of light-years, the Roman Empire was still at its height. When this light left NGC 6384, the dinosaurs still ruled the Earth. I'd say this puts it all in perspective, but I'm not sure human perspective is big enough for something like this.

Via NASA.