Strange galactic merger captured by Hubble Space Telescope

Stars swirl like water down a plug hole as two galaxies begin a cosmic merger in a newly released Hubble Space Telescope image.

NGC 2799 (left) and NGC 2798 (right) in a galactic merger. Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA/ SDSS/J. Dalcanton, CC BY 4.0; Acknowledgement: Judy Schmidt (Geckzilla)

Flying together at huge speeds, locked into a relationship that may eventually see them merge, these galaxies captured by the Hubble Space Telescope are NGC 2799 (left) and NGC 2798 (right), in the constellation of Lynx.

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Already the left galaxy is distorting under the other’s influence, its stars appearing to peel away and fall into the centre of NGC 2798’s spiral.

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But don’t hold your breath for a calamitous head-on collision – the process will last millions of years, perhaps even a billion.

What’s more, although galactic collisions may suggest chaos and destruction, the distances between each galaxy’s components are so immense that they are more likely to pass through each other with little connection.

Our own Milky Way is also on course for a similar collision, meeting our large spiralled neighbour the Andromeda Galaxy in around 4 billion years, potentially merging into one mega-galaxy dubbed ‘Milkomeda’.

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Observatory Hubble Space Telescope

Release date 23 October 2020

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Image credit ESA/Hubble & NASA/ SDSS/J. Dalcanton, CC BY 4.0; Acknowledgement: Judy Schmidt (Geckzilla)