Two For the Price of One

This image, taken with the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 on board the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, shows the galaxy NGC 6052, located around 230 million light-years away in the constellation of Hercules. It would be reasonable to think of this as a single abnormal galaxy, and it was originally classified as such. However, it is in fact a “new” galaxy in the process of forming. Two separate galaxies have been gradually drawn together, attracted by gravity, and have collided. We now see them merging into a single structure. As the merging process continues, individual stars are thrown out of their original orbits and placed onto entirely new paths, some very distant from the region of the collision itself. Since the stars produce the light we see, the “galaxy” now appears to have a highly chaotic shape. Eventually, this new galaxy will settle down into a stable shape, which may not resemble either of the two original galaxies.NASA announced today that the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 of the Hubble Space Telescope has imaged the collision of two galaxies merging into one.

The double galaxy is identified as NGC 6052, and is located 230 million light years away, in the constellation Hercules.

So the image to the left shows the galaxies colliding about the time that dinosaurs were starting to dominate this planet, and when the mean Earth day was about 23 hours.

No need to check back for an update of the picture though: the whole merging process will take about a million years.

Author: Bob Mahoney

Physics teacher

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