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Bringing some of the mysteries of the universe a little closer to home.
Image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA
This image, captured by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, shows what happens when two galaxies become one. The twisted cosmic knot seen here is NGC 2623 — or Arp 243 — and is located about 250 million light-years away in the constellation of Cancer (The Crab).
NGC 2623 gained its unusual and distinctive shape as the result of a major collision and subsequent merger between two separate galaxies. This violent encounter caused clouds of gas within the two galaxies to become compressed and stirred up, in turn triggering a sharp spike of star formation. This active star formation is marked by speckled patches of bright blue; these can be seen clustered both in the center and along the trails of dust and gas forming NGC 2623’s sweeping curves (known as tidal tails). These tails extend for roughly 50 000 light-years from end to end. Many young, hot, newborn stars form in bright stellar clusters — at least 170 such clusters are known to exist within NGC 2623.
Source / Image Courtesy
Studies have revealed that as galaxies approach one another massive amounts of gas are pulled from each galaxy towards the centre of the other, until ultimately, the two merge into one massive galaxy. The object in the image, NGC 2623, is in the late stages of the merging process with the centres of the original galaxy pair now merged into one nucleus.
Some mergers (including NGC 2623) can result in an active galactic nucleus, where one of the supermassive black holes found at the centres of the two original galaxies is stirred into action.
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