Feast Your Eyes On Hubble’s Astonishing Images Of Galaxies Colliding And Stars Being Born

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The Hubble Space Telescope just published six incredible images of galaxies colliding.

The mighty space telescope in orbit of Earth—up there for 30 years now—captured the mergers while astronomers were studying how quickly stars are forming in distant galaxies.

When galaxies collide you might think that violence ensues, but in fact such massive movements are part of how galaxies evolve.

Collisions between stars are rare because stars are tiny relative to the distances between them in a galaxy. After a period of chaos, the two galaxies fully merge to form a single new and stable galaxy.

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However, these mergers—caught here on camera—remain among the most spectacular events in the lifetime of a galaxy, as shown by these six images.

It’s thought that the Milky Way galaxy—in whose Orion Spiral Arm the Solar System is found—will inevitably collide head-on with the Andromeda Galaxy in about 4.5 billion years.

Here are Hubble’s spectacular images of other galaxy mergers, along with details about what you’re looking at, where the galaxies are in the night sky, and how far they are from us.

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1. Peculiar galaxy NGC 3256

Where:Vela constellation

Distance: 100 million light-years

An ideal target for anyone investigating starbursts that have been triggered by galaxy mergers, NGC 3256 is rated as “peculiar.” Its distorted appearance is down to a previous merger.

2. NGC 1614 spiral galaxy

Where: Eridanus constellation

Distance: 200 million light-years

Here’s an odd-looking galaxy. Its “tails” are thought to be the result two galaxies becoming tidally locked and then merging.

3. NGC 4194—the “Medusa merger”

Where: Ursa Major constellation

Distance: 130 million light-years

What happens when an old galaxy “eats” a newer, smaller galaxy? The “Medusa merger” galaxy shows streams of stars and dust thrown out into space after an old galaxy interacted with a smaller gas-rich galaxy, resulting in a burst of new stars.

4. NGC 3690 and IC 694 – the “supernova factory”

Where: Ursa Major constellation

Distance: 130 million light-years

These two galaxies, IC 694 and NGC 3690, passed each other about 700 million years ago and caused a surge of new stars to form. In recent years astronomers have spotted six supernovae in the galaxies’ outer reaches.

5. NGC 6052

Where: Hercules constellation

Distance: 230 million light-years

Now known to be a pair of galaxies now colliding, NGC 6052 was once thought to be on odd-shaped galaxy—hence the singular name. It’s in chaos, with the gravitational effects of the merger causing stars from the original galaxies to take new trajectories.

6. NGC 34 spiral galaxy

Where: Cetus constellation

Distance: 271 million light-years

A bioluminescent creature from the deep? The result of a merger between two galaxies, new stars forming in its center are lighting-up the gas around it in this spectacular image. Over time NGC 34 will become more like that of an indistinct “peculiar” galaxy.

The Hubble imaging Probe of Extreme Environments and Clusters (HiPEEC) survey has investigated how star clusters are affected during collisions in each of the six galaxy mergers shown here.

Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.

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