Colliding galaxies make love, not war

Oct 17, 2006
Colliding Galaxies Make Love, Not War
This Hubble image of the Antennae galaxies is the sharpest yet of this merging pair of galaxies. As the two galaxies smash together, billions of stars are born, mostly in groups and clusters of stars. The brightest and most compact of these are called super star clusters. Credit: Credit: NASA, ESA, and B. Whitmore (Space Telescope Science Institute). Acknowledgement: James Long (ESA/Hubble).

A new Hubble image of the Antennae galaxies is the sharpest yet of this merging pair of galaxies. As the two galaxies smash together, billions of stars are born, mostly in groups and clusters of stars. The brightest and most compact of these are called super star clusters.

The Universe is an all-action arena for some of the largest, most slowly evolving dramas known to mankind. A new picture taken by the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS), onboard the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, shows the "best ever" view of the Antennae galaxies - seemingly a violent clash between a pair of once isolated galaxies, but in reality a fertile marriage. As the two galaxies interact, billions of stars are born, mostly in groups and clusters of stars. The brightest and most compact of these are called super star clusters.

The two spiral galaxies started to fuse together about 500 million years ago making the Antenna galaxies the nearest and youngest example of a pair of colliding galaxies. Nearly half of the faint objects in the Antennae are young clusters containing tens of thousands of stars. The orange blobs to the left and right of image centre are the two cores of the original galaxies and consist mainly of old stars criss-crossed by filaments of dark brown dust. The two galaxies are dotted with brilliant blue star-forming regions surrounded by pink hydrogen gas.

The image allows astronomers to better distinguish between the stars and super star clusters created in the collision of two spiral galaxies. The observations show that only about 10% of the newly formed super star clusters in the Antennae will live to see their ten millionth birthday. The vast majority of the super star clusters formed during this interaction will disperse, with the individual stars becoming part of the smooth background of the galaxy. It is however believed that about a hundred of the most massive clusters will survive to form regular globular clusters, similar to the globular clusters found in our own Milky Way galaxy.

The Antennae galaxies take their name from the long antenna-like "arms" extending far out from the nuclei of the two galaxies, best seen by ground-based telescopes. These "tidal tails" were formed during the initial encounter of the galaxies some 500 million years ago. The give us a preview of what may happen when our Milky Way galaxy likely collides with the neighbouring Andromeda Galaxy about 6 billion years from now.

Source: ESA/Hubble Information Centre

Explore further: POLARBEAR detects curls in the universe's oldest light

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

A crash course in galactic clusters and star formation

2 hours ago

Clusters of galaxies have back-stories worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster: their existences are marked by violence, death and birth, arising after extragalactic pile-ups where groups of galaxies crashed into ...

Construction secrets of a galactic metropolis

3 hours ago

Galaxy clusters are the largest objects in the Universe held together by gravity but their formation is not well understood. The Spiderweb Galaxy (formally known as MRC 1138-262) and its surroundings have ...

Image: Hubble captures the Butterfly Nebula

Oct 13, 2014

Many celestial objects are beautiful – swirling spiral galaxies or glittering clusters of stars are notable examples. But some of the most striking scenes are created during the death throes of intermediate-mass ...

What is the upper limit for massive stars?

Oct 07, 2014

Yesterday I mentioned that hypernovae (super-supernovae) are the result of the explosion of a star that's about as massive as a star can be (about 150-200 solar masses). But how exactly do we know that t ...

Wild ducks take flight in open cluster

Oct 01, 2014

The Wide Field Imager on the MPG/ESO 2.2-meter telescope at ESO's La Silla Observatory in Chile has taken this beautiful image, dappled with blue stars, of one of the most star-rich open clusters currently ...

Recommended for you

New window on the early Universe

2 hours ago

Scientists at the Universities of Bonn and Cardiff see good times approaching for astrophysicists after hatching a new observational strategy to distill detailed information from galaxies at the edge of ...

Chandra's archives come to life

5 hours ago

Every year, NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory looks at hundreds of objects throughout space to help expand our understanding of the Universe. Ultimately, these data are stored in the Chandra Data Archive, ...

New robotic telescope revolutionizes the study of stars

5 hours ago

In the last 8 months a fully robotic telescope in Tenerife has been carrying out high-precision observations of the motion of stellar surfaces. The telescope is the first in the SONG telescope network and ...

User comments : 0