Hubble Telescope captures violent merger of three galaxies
NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has captured a stunning image of three galaxies tearing each other apart 763 million light-years away from Earth.
Located in the constellation Lynx, Arp 195 is a cluster of galaxies involved in a three-way gravitational tug-of-war.
It is a destiny that astronomers predict will befall our own Milky Way when, in 4.5 billion years’ time, it is set to collide with the neighbouring Andromeda galaxy, according to an assessment by the European Space Agency.
NASA says it captured the image of the three “squabbling galactic siblings” long after they had become snared by each other’s gravitational pull. The three galaxies are now spiralling in ever closer orbits towards each other, with the largest one using its powerful gravity to snare material from its smaller rivals, creating the streak of dust, gas and stars between them that can be seen in the image. Eventually, at some point, the three galaxies will merge into one.
A merger of galaxies is more about creation than destruction, Space.com said. As gas from the three galaxies collides and condenses, a vast sea of material from which new stars will emerge is assembled at the centre of the newly unified galaxy.
Existing stars, meanwhile, will survive the crash mostly unscathed; while the gravitational tug-of-war among the three galaxies will warp the orbital paths of many existing stars, so much space exists between those stars that relatively few of them are likely to collide, Live Science previously reported.
Mergers like these are common throughout the universe. All large galaxies — including Milky Way — owe their size to violent mergers.