Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA
Maffei 2 (also known as UGCA 39) is a, heavily obscured, intermediate barred spiral galaxy of about 15,000 light-years across, located near the Galactic Plane, some 9.8 million light-years away in the constellation Cassiopeia, far behind — but seemingly next to — the Heart Nebula (IC 1805). It is a member of the IC 342/Maffei Group, the group of galaxies that is the closest to the Local Group. This galaxy is approaching us at roughly 17 kilometers per second.
It lies in the “Zone of Avoidance”, the area of the sky that is obscured by interstellar dust, gas and stars in our own Milky Way, and is about 99.5 percent obscured by these dust clouds. As a result Maffei 2, is barely detectable at optical wavelengths, and is, therefore, discovered from its infrared emission only in 1968 by Paolo Maffei, together with its elliptical neighbour Maffei 1.
This infrared image from the Spitzer Space Telescope penetrates the dust to reveal the galaxy in all its glory. It clearly shows the unusual structure of Maffei 2, with a strong central bar and prominent dusty, asymmetric spiral arms. It contains billions of stars, and also harbors a burst of star formation in its very core (one of the nearest examples of this process). These structural asymmetries, as well as its nuclear starburst, are possibly caused by an ongoing merger with a small satellite companion galaxy.