Hubble spies spooky face in violent galaxy merger
The Hubble Space Telescope has peered into the past to reveal a creepy cosmic face emerging from the remnants of colliding galaxies. The gleaming eyes of the spooky face are in reality the central regions of the dueling galaxies, while the shape of the face, nose and mouth are formed from their tortured disks.
The latest offering from the Hubble telescope was taken on June 19 this year, and shows a snapshot of a massive galactic collision unfolding 704 million light-years from Earth. Astronomers refer to the cosmic melee as the Arp-Madore 2026-424.
Galaxy mergers are common throughout the observable universe, however they were even more prevalent when the cosmos was young. Our own Milky Way has collided with and absorbed many smaller galaxies, and in upwards of 4 billion years our home will itself fall victim to the neighboring Andromeda galaxy.
During these heavyweight encounters, the gravitational influences of dueling galaxies distort each other’s shapes, creating chaotic scenes of swirling stars.
The scene captured in the new Hubble image is likely the result of a head-on merger between two galaxies of roughly equal size. Scientists targeted the unique Arp-Madore system as part of Hubble’s "snapshot" program, which uses rare periods of time between scientific observations to capture stunning astro imagery of galaxies interacting in strange ways.
Astronomers hope to build a catalog of these images that will help them understand how galaxies grow through violent galactic collisions, and to provide tantalizing targets for the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope.
Hubble’s newest image shows the Arp-Madore system as it was hundreds of millions of years ago, when the light detected by the telescope left its source to travel across the cosmos. Over time, the face will have disappeared, and eventually a new unified galaxy will emerge, with the traces of its violent past hidden from view.
A zoomable version of the image has been published on the Hubble Space Telescope website. The video below zooms in on the merger from the perspective of Earth.
Source: Hubble Space Telescope