Hubble records fireworks when galaxies collide
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Bird in space? No, it's a galactic collision photographed by the Hubble Space Telescope
(CNN) -- NASA's flagship space observatory has captured a
brilliant light display ignited by a violent encounter between
two galaxies, scientists said Thursday.
Bright blue and white streaks along the top and right edge of the large spiral galaxy in the central part of the Hubble Space Telescope image mark the path taken by a passing smaller galaxy. The tip of the latter appears in the lower right corner of a more detailed picture, which can be viewed by clicking on the "larger" icon.
The luminous trail reveals the location of new stars in the large
galaxy created by the cosmic crash. Dust and gas clouds in both
galaxies rammed into each other during the encounter, compressing
and heating up the interstellar clouds enough in some cases to
spark the formation of hot blue stars through gravitational
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Hubble scientists, who released the image Thursday, likened the
brightest patch in the image to a bird's head, leaning over to
snatch up some tasty prey.
"We used to call it the golf club but then we turned it upside
down and it looked like a bird," said Hubble scientist Keith Noll
of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland.
The galactic crash site is about 206 million light years away, in
the direction of the constellation Lyra.
Curiously, when galaxies collide, existing stars that comprise
most of their luminous mass rarely run into each other. This case
offers no exception, said Hubble scientists.
The reason: stars are tiny compared to the distance separating
them from one another, making the chances of a direct encounter
remote. In our galaxy, for example, the nearest star to our sun
is 4.3 light years away: Proxima Centauri, which is part of the
Alpha Centauri triple system.
Scientists with the Hubble Heritage created the image using
archive data recorded by the Hubble telescope in 1996. The
orbiting observatory -- a joint project of NASA and the European Space Agency -- has taken thousands of revealing pictures of the universe since it began operations in 1990.
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Hubble Space Telescope
Hubble Heritage Project Homepage
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