A tale of galactic collisions
When we look into the distant cosmos, the great majority of the objects we see are galaxies: immense gatherings of stars, planets, gas, dust, and dark matter, showing up in all kind of shapes. This Hubble picture registers several, but the galaxy catalogued as 2MASX J05210136-2521450 stands out at a glance due to its interesting shape.
This object is an ultraluminous infrared galaxy which emits a tremendous amount of light at infrared wavelengths. Scientists connect this to intense star formation activity, triggered by a collision between two interacting galaxies.
The merging process has left its signs: 2MASX J05210136-2521450 presents a single, bright nucleus and a spectacular outer structure that consists of a one-sided extension of the inner arms, with a tidal tail heading in the opposite direction, formed from material ripped out from the merging galaxies by gravitational forces.
The image is a combination of exposures taken by Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys, using near-infrared and visible light. A version of this image was submitted to the Hubble’s Hidden Treasures image processing competition by contestant Luca Limatola.
Cosmic “flying V” of merging galaxies
This large “flying V” is actually two distinct objects — a pair of interacting galaxies known as IC 2184. Both the galaxies are seen almost edge-on in the large, faint northern constellation of Camelopardalis (The Giraffe), and can be seen as bright streaks of light surrounded by the ghostly shapes of their tidal tails.
These tidal tails are thin, elongated streams of gas, dust and stars that extend away from a galaxy into space. They occur when galaxies gravitationally interact with one another, and material is sheared from the outer edges of each body and flung out into space in opposite directions, forming two tails. They almost always appear curved, so when they are seen to be relatively straight, as in this image, it is clear that we are viewing the galaxies side-on.
Also visible in this image are bursts of bright blue, pinpointing hot regions where the stars from both galaxies have begun to crash together during the merger.
The image consists of visible and infrared observations from Hubble’s Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2.
A version of this picture was entered into the Hubble’s Hidden Treasures image-processing competition by contestant Serge Meunier.
ESA/Hubble & NASA
A side-on spiral streak
This thin, glittering streak of stars is the spiral galaxy ESO 121-6, which lies in the southern constellation of Pictor (The Painter’s Easel). Viewed almost exactly side-on, the intricate structure of the swirling arms is hidden, but the full length of the galaxy can be seen — including the intense glow from the central bulge, a dense region of tightly packed young stars sitting at the centre of the spiral arms.
Tendrils of dark dust can be seen across the frame, partially obscuring the bright centre of the galaxy and continuing out towards the smattering of stars at its edges, where the dust lanes and shapes melt into the inky background. Numerous nearby stars and galaxies are visible as small smudges in the surrounding sky, and the brightest stars are dazzlingly prominent towards the bottom left of the image.
ESO 121-6 is a galaxy with patchy, loosely wound arms and a relatively faint central bulge. It actually belongs to a group of galaxies, a clump of no more than 50 similar structures all loosely bound to one another by gravity. The Milky Way is also a member of a galactic group, known as the Local Group.
ESA/Hubble & NASA
In this new view of the Andromeda galaxy from ESA’s Herschel space observatory, cool lanes of forming stars are revealed in the finest detail yet.
Andromeda, also known as M31, is the nearest major galaxy to our own Milky Way at a distance of 2.5 million light-years, making it an ideal natural laboratory to study star formation and galaxy evolution.
Sensitive to the far-infrared light from cool dust mixed in with gas, Herschel seeks out clouds of gas where stars are born. The new image reveals some of the very coldest dust in the galaxy – only a few tens of degrees above absolute zero – coloured red in this image.
By comparison, warmer regions such as the densely populated central bulge, home to older stars, take on a blue appearance.
Intricate structure is present throughout the 200 000 light-year-wide galaxy with star-formation zones organised in spiral arms and at least five concentric rings, interspersed with dark gaps where star formation is absent.
Host to several hundred billion stars, this new image of Andromeda clearly shows that many more stars will soon spark into existence.