Boom!

Behold! Stunning images of a cosmic shock wave 60 times larger than the Milky Way

A relic from a billion-year-old collision.

Galaxies are often spread apart from each other by millions of light years.

But sometimes gravity draws together clusters of hundreds to thousands of galaxies in a close formation.

Valerio Pardi / 500px/500Px Plus/Getty Images

And when entire galaxy clusters get too close to each other, gravity can wind them in tighter until they’re unable to escape.

This results in extremely powerful collisions whose aftermath we can still observe today.

Galaxy cluster Abell 3667 is the product of a merger that happened over a billion years ago.

NASA, ESA, STScI, Julianne Dalcanton (Center for Computational Astrophysics / Flatiron Inst. and University of Washington)

NASA/JPL-Caltech

The aftermath of that collision also created the largest cosmic shock wave that radio telescopes can observe from Earth.

For scale, the Milky Way is 60 times smaller than Abell 3667’s shock wave.

Jose A. Bernat Bacete/Moment/Getty Images

On Wednesday, researchers reported new, detailed views of the shock wave in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

Gallo Images/Gallo Images/Getty Images

Using the MeerKAT radio telescope at the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory, they pieced together a fiery display of fast-moving particles that span 6.5 million light years.

Here are three views of Abell 3667’s massive shock wave:

Shutterstock

In the center of this image is Abell 3667, framed by the red-orange shock waves that were created as the cluster formed.

Francesco de Gasperin, SARAO

Here’s a closer view of the largest of the two shock waves. The Milky Way (top-right for size) is merely a speck in comparison.

Francesco de Gasperin, SARAO

Magnetic field lines glow in this gif of the larger shock wave.

Francesco de Gasperin, SARAO

SARAO

Studying this cosmic remnant could reveal the earliest days of galaxy formation — and some of the most powerful events that shaped the universe today.

“These structures are full of surprises and much more complex than what we initially thought.”

Francesco de Gasperin, lead study author, in a statement

SARAO