New Hubble Images Show Two Galaxies a Mere 7,000 Light-Years Apart

The Hubble Space Telescope will mark 27 years in orbit on Monday, April 24, and is offering a VIP invitation to its very exclusive party of three.

On Thursday, NASA and the European Space Agency released these beautiful images of Hubble’s latest close-up on two galaxies coming dangerously close to one another.

Galaxies NGC 4302 on the right and NGC 4298 on the left are both spiral galaxies but with very different appearances:

In the Hubble image, we see NGC 4302 edge-on and NGC 4298 almost face on. NGC 4302 is only slightly smaller than the Milky Way and NGC 4298 is about half the size of its sister galaxy.

The pair reside 55 million light-years away in a neighborhood of 2,000 other galaxies all gravitationally bound together by the giant Virgo Cluster. At their closest points, the two are only 7,000 light-years apart — that’s pretty close in cosmic terms.

If we zoom out, those the pair of galaxies can be seen as just two of scores of them:

The only evidence that these two may one day collide, despite their proximity, is a small hydrogen trail tethering them. Normally, in galaxies this close, there would be some distortion, like small tails pulling away from the center of each galaxy. Though it baffles astronomers, they do believe the galaxies are “new arrivals” in the Virgo Cluster and may be getting pulled to the center, known as Messier 87, one of largest galaxies ever recorded.

The Hubble images may help scientists understand galaxy clusters and how they form, but for now, we are all just celebrating the wonderful contributions the telescope has given to science. Happy 27th Birthday, Hubble!

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