Why does the tidy, compact spiral galaxy NGC 470 on the right look so different to its neighbour NGC 474, a shell elliptical galaxy spreading out vastly and fuzzily in concentric rings of stars?
At least 10% of elliptical galaxies in our Universe have this diffuse, shell-like structure, but the reasons are unknown.
The shells may be ‘ripples’ following a merger with a smaller galaxy, or – since spiral galaxies make up around 72% of the galaxies that have been observed – are they overcoming their wispier cousins?
It may be that NGC 470 has been exerting a powerful gravitational pull on NGC 474 for millennia, slowly pulling it apart.
Observatory Very Large Telescope
Release date 6 January 2020
Image credit ESO