Don’t let the soft, serene hues of blue and gold fool you — the phallic blue smudge in this new image, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, is actually the tempestuous marriage of two spiral galaxies that collided into one another millions of years ago.
These two galaxies met when gravity pulled them too close to each other and they were forced into a turbulent, chaotic relationship. Now that they have become one, known as IRAS 14348-1447, they are in constant battle, creating prominent tails and wisps extending away from the main formation.
A galactic merger is the most violent type of galaxy interaction. When they are tugged and pulled every which way like this, they tend to produce an insane amount of molecular gas and as a result are very hot, in fact, almost all of the energy emitted from it is in the far-infrared! This would normally be impossible for scientists to see, but with the help of the Infrared Astronomical Satellite, they can discover more than ever before.
Oddly enough, when two galaxies like these merge, the stars within each galaxy rarely collide. You’d think that with two behemoths such as these, the stars and planets and other space junk involved would be smashing into each other like a merry-go-round gone wrong. But, because the stars are so far apart, we’re talking light-years, they hardly get a chance to coincide.
Galaxy collisions are an increasing area of study for scientists who want to know more about how galaxies came to be and evolve over time, so there will be a lot more focus on the history and future IRAS 14348-1447. And thankfully, the merger lives about a billion light years away from us, so there’s no fear of the milky way being dragged into this toxic relationship.