Life can be rough if you’re a galaxy, especially if you’re in a crowded neighborhood like the Virgo galaxy cluster. The gravity of your massive neighbors can pull you in all sorts of weird directions and even change your fundamental shape.
That’s what’s happening to the galaxy NGC 4388, which is 60 million light-years away and one of the 1,300 to 2,000 galaxies in the Virgo cluster. NGC 4388 is a spiral galaxy, but gravity is changing the outer edges of the galaxy and triggering bursts of new star formation. The Hubble Space Telescope got a great shot of the transformation and NASA and the European Space Administration released the image earlier this month.
The galaxy’s core glows just like any other spiral galaxy (including the Milky Way), but the outer edges are looking smooth, a bit more like an elliptical galaxy. The bright blue areas in the arms are a sign that a bunch of new stars have formed.
The Virgo cluster is about the size of the group of galaxies the Milky Way is a part of, but the Virgo cluster is about twice as dense with galaxies. That means NGC 4388, which sits in the middle of the cluster, has to deal with stronger gravitational forces from larger galaxies nearby. It’s a little warped at the moment, but NGC 4388 is a great example of the transformative, and beautiful, power of gravity.