A newly released image of one of our nearest galactic neighbors, Barnard's Galaxy, also known as NGC 6822, reveals regions of star formation and strange-looking nebulae, such as the bubble visible in the image [upper left].

NGC 6822, about 1.6 million light-years away, is classified as an irregular dwarf galaxy because of its odd shape and relatively small size compared with other galaxies, such as our own, the Milky Way, and its other neighbors, the Andromeda and Triangulum galaxies. All are members of the Local Group of galaxies. Barnard's Galaxy contains about 10 million stars, well under our own's estimated 200 billion to 400 billion.

Astronomers obtained this image of Barnard's Galaxy using the Wide Field Imager attached to the 2.2-meter MPG/ESO telescope at the European Southern Observatory's La Silla Observatory in northern Chile. Reddish nebulae reveal regions of active star formation, where young, hot stars heat up nearby gas clouds. The bubble is a nebula with a clutch of massive, hot stars at its center that is sending waves of matter smashing into the surrounding interstellar material, generating a glowing structure, which looks like a ring from our perspective.

Other similar ripples of heated matter thrown out by young stars are dotted across Barnard's Galaxy.

Irregular dwarf galaxies like Barnard's get their bloblike forms from close encounters with other galaxies. Gravity's attraction can dramatically scramble the shapes of the passing or colliding galaxies, pulling and flinging stars and forming irregularly shaped dwarf galaxies like NGC 6822.