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4:30pm ET, 4/16


Hubble spots 'pipeline' between rowdy galactic neighbors

galaxies colliding
A Hubble image of two galaxies that bumped together about 100 million years ago shows an intergalactic 'pipeline' of material flowing between them  

(CNN) -- An intriguing new Hubble image showcases a narrow intergalactic bridge of matter extending between two galaxies that periodically collide into each other.

A sprawling string of dark matter some 20,000 light years long links the two compact galaxies, which bumped into each other about 100 million years ago, according to Hubble astronomers.

The researchers think the encounter somehow created the pipeline, which started in the left galaxy and wrapped around the right one like a ribbon. But they cannot explain why the siphoned material failed to ignite a stellar population explosion in the latter.

Cult 3D model of
Hubble Space Telescope

"A stream of matter funneling into the galaxy should have fueled a spate of star births," Hubble researchers said in a statement this week.

They theorize that the gas flowing into the recipient galaxy, known as NGC1409, is too hot to collapse gravitationally and form stars.

Yet somehow the brief encounter tossed stars deep into space and induced a flurry of star births in the other galaxy, NGC 1410. The blue color of the galaxy's arms signals productive star forming regions.

Located about 300 million light years away in the constellation Taurus, the dancing duo will periodically run into each other again before finally merging in another 200 million years, the researchers said.

Such galactic encounters could be common in the universe. Some astronomers think that the Milky Way grew from mergers with other galaxies and will collide with more in the distant future.

The image was released this week at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

'X' marks star-forming spot in Hubble image
January 4, 2001
Hubble captures wispy decay of nebulous giant
December 6, 2000
Hubble records fireworks when galaxies collide
November 2, 2000
Hubble reveals secrets of a celestial 'Blob'
October 9, 2000

Space Telescope Science Institute
Hubble Heritage Project

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