The Hubble Space Telescope has treated us this early fall day with a view of a massive galaxy (NGC 4490 if you’re keeping track), studded with intense star formations hued a neon pink color, the result of cosmic collisions of matter.
The galaxy NGC 4490 looks warped in images captured by Hubble, a result of gravity’s never-ending pull on objects in the universe.
Here’s how the European Space Agency explains it:
Over millions of years, the mutual gravitational attraction between NGC 4490 and its smaller neighbour, NGC 4485, has dragged the two galaxies closer. Eventually, they collided in a swirling crush of stars, gas, and dust.
The two galaxes
Together NGC 4490 and NGC 4485 form the system Arp 269, which is featured in the Atlas of Peculiar Galaxies. They are located 24 million light-years from Earth in the constellation of Canes Venatici (The Hunting Dogs). The extreme tidal forces of their interaction have determined the shapes and properties of the two galaxies. Once a barred spiral galaxy, similar to the Milky Way, NGC 4490’s outlying regions have been stretched out, resulting in its nickname of the Cocoon Galaxy. Virtually no trace of its past spiral structure can be seen from our perspective, although its companion galaxy NGC 4485 — not pictured here — still clings on to its spiral arms.
In the image below, this most intense period is already over and the two galaxies have moved through each other, untangled themselves, and are speeding apart again.
But, the ESA notes, “gravity’s pull is relentless; the galaxies are likely to collide again within a few billion years.” Also “the brilliant pink pockets of light seen here are dense clouds of ionized hydrogen, glowing as they are irradiated with ultraviolet light from nearby young, hot stars.”
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