Skip to main content

Two galaxies collide in epic image from Gemini North telescope

Hard as it is to imagine, out in the depths of space entire galaxies can collide. Galactic collisions can be sites of not only destruction but creation, as the two interacting galaxies can create pockets of intense star formation as they merge. The slow process of merging can happen over millions of years, meaning that astronomers can spot these mergers as they happen.

One such merger has been captured by NOIRLab’s Gemini North telescope in Hawaii, showing the two galaxies NGC 4568 and NGC 4567 in the dramatic process of colliding and merging. The two are currently just 20,000 light-years apart, and they are poised to enter a destructive phase of merging.

Apair of interacting spiral galaxies — NGC 4568 (bottom) and NGC 4567 (top) — as they begin to clash and merge.
This image from the Gemini North telescope in Hawai‘i reveals a pair of interacting spiral galaxies — NGC 4568 (bottom) and NGC 4567 (top) — as they begin to clash and merge. The galaxies will eventually form a single elliptical galaxy in around 500 million years. International Gemini Observatory/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA Image processing: T.A. Rector (University of Alaska Anchorage/NSF's NOIRLab), J. Miller (Gemini Observatory/NSF's NOIRLab), M. Zamani (NSF’s NOIRLab) & D. de Martin (NSF’s NOIRLab)

The two galaxies are located 60 million light-years away, toward the constellation of Virgo, and both are spiral galaxies like our Milky Way. However, as they get closer and closer the enormous gravitational forces involved in the merger will begin to distort their shapes, stretching out parts while triggering bursts of star formation in certain pockets.

“As NGC 4568 and NGC 4567 draw together and coalesce, their dueling gravitational forces will trigger bursts of intense stellar formation and wildly distort their once-majestic structures,” NOIRLab writes. “Over millions of years, the galaxies will repeatedly swing past each other in ever-tightening loops, drawing out long streamers of stars and gas until their individual structures are so thoroughly mixed that a single, essentially spherical, galaxy emerges from the chaos. By that point, much of the gas and dust (the fuel for star formation) in this system will have been used up or blown away.”

Just to add to the existential horror aspect of this image, NOIRLab also points out that this is similar to what will eventually happen to the Milky Way when the nearby Andromeda galaxy collides with our home galaxy in around 4 billion years’ time.

Editors' Recommendations

Georgina Torbet
Georgina is the Digital Trends space writer, covering human space exploration, planetary science, and cosmology. She…
See seasonal changes on Mars in two stunning images from MAVEN
mars maven ultraviolet seasons orbit16863 apo ladfit localff png

The planets in our solar system experience seasons because of the way that they are tilted in their orbits, so one hemisphere is facing the sun more often at some times of year than others. However, there's another factor which also affects weather and conditions on some planets, which is their position in their orbit around the sun. Earth has a relatively circular orbit, so the differences caused by it being slightly closer or further from the sun at different points are minimal. But Mars's orbit is much more eccentric or oval-shaped than Earth's, meaning conditions differ based on when the planet is closer to the sun.

That effect is illustrated in two images of Mars recently released by NASA, which show the planet at its closest and furthest point from the sun. Taken by a Mars orbiter called MAVEN, or Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN, the images were taken six months apart in July 2022 and January 2023 respectively, showing how the environment of the planet changes with both season and the planet's orbit.

Read more
Hubble image of the week shows an unusual jellyfish galaxy
The jellyfish galaxy JO206 trails across this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, showcasing a colorful star-forming disk surrounded by a pale, luminous cloud of dust. A handful of foreground bright stars with crisscross diffraction spikes stands out against an inky black backdrop at the bottom of the image. JO206 lies over 700 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Aquarius.

This week's image from the Hubble Space Telescope shows an unusual type of galaxy named for its aquatic look-alike: a jellyfish.

The jellyfish galaxy JO206 is shown below in an image taken using Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3 instrument. Located 700 million light-years away, in the constellation of Aquarius, this image of the galaxy shows both the bright center of the galaxy and its long tendrils reaching out toward the bottom right. It is these tendrils that give jellyfish galaxies their names, and they are formed through a process called ram pressure stripping.

Read more
Gemini North telescope’s chipped mirror has been repaired
Gemini North, part of the International Gemini Observatory operated by NSF’s NOIRLab, is back observing the night sky following the repair and refurbishment of its primary mirror. The telescope’s debut observation captured the supernova dubbed SN 2023ixf (lower left), which was discovered on 19 May by Japanese astronomer Koichi Itagaki. This dazzling point of light, the closest supernova seen in the past five years, is located along one of the spiral arms of the Pinwheel Galaxy (Messier 101).

Modern telescopes are huge and complex installations. They may be either an array of many smaller dishes or a single giant dish, but in either case they are equipped with delicate mirrors, as well as observation instruments, controls for pointing the telescope in the required direction, and electronic systems for recording data. That means that these large installations are vulnerable to hardware failures, such as the collapse of the famous Arecibo Observatory, which was catastrophically damaged due to a cable snapping in 2020.

The large Gemini North telescope, run by the National Science Foundation (NSF)'s NOIRLab and located on the Maunakea volcano on the island of Hawai‘i, suffered damage last year when the telescope's primary mirror was chipped. According to NSF, "[w]hile moving the primary mirror in preparation for stripping its reflective protected silver coating, it contacted an earthquake restraint on the facility’s wash cart, chipping the edge."

Read more