NASA’S Hubble Space Telescope witnessed the galaxies NGC 4038 and NGC 4039 tearing each other apart as the star clusters collide and merge into one.
NASA has dubbed the merging galaxies the Antennae Galaxies after their long, streaming plumes of gas, stars and stellar dust. As the galaxies pull at each other with their gravities, their shapes are distorted beyond recognition. The cosmic collision is estimated to have begun a few hundred million years ago. Eventually, the Antennae Galaxies will combine into one, triggering the birth of billions of new stars.
NASA said: “This celestial firestorm is the blazing wreckage of a collision between two spiral galaxies.
“The two galaxies, whose bright yellow cores appear to the lower left and upper right of centre, began their fateful confrontation a few hundred million years ago.”
The cosmic collision shows dark strands of dust being stretched between the two galaxies.
The Hubble image also shows massive clouds of dust and gas initiating the birth of new stars.
Newly formed stars featured in Hubble photos glow with intense blue light.
Older stars fall towards the orange and red end of the light spectrum, making the two distinguishable from one another.
The pink hues seen through the merging galaxies are nebulas or clusters of interstellar gas of helium and hydrogen where stars are born.
The pink nebulas here twinkle with the glow of young stars while even more stars are being churned out.
When the Hubble picture was unveiled in 2006, it was the sharpest observation of the distant galaxies.
The star clusters are estimated to sit approximately 62 million light-years or 364,474,770,000,000,000,000 miles from Earth.
Using Hubble’s data, Brad Whitmore of the Space Telescope Science Institute and his colleagues found the Antennae Galaxies are home to more a thousand “super star clusters”.
These clusters will eventually disappear but the larger ones will live on in the form giant, spherical globular clusters.
NASA said: “Most globular clusters contain ancient stars and were thought to be relics of a galaxy’s earliest days, but Hubble’s observations suggest that globular clusters can also be born more recently from galactic mergers.”
By studying galactic mergers like this, NASA hopes to learn more about how galaxies evolve over time.
Our own galaxy, the Milky Way, will merge with the nearby Andromeda galaxy.
Thankfully, the merger will not happen for another four billion years.
NASA said: “It might even provide insight into our own spiral galaxy’s future collision with the large, spiral Andromeda galaxy.
1. The Hubble telescope weighs an incredible 24,500 lbs or 11,113kg.
2. Hubble flies around the planet at speeds of about 17,000 miles per hour.
3. More than 13,000 scientific papers have been published using data collected by Hubble.
4. Hubble is comparable in size to an American school bus.
5. Hubble has spotted objects as far away as 13.4 billion light-years away – almost as old as the universe itself.
This celestial firestorm is the blazing wreckage of a collision between two spiral galaxies