Skip to main content

Epic galaxy merger imaged by Hubble Space Telescope

Out in the depths of space, collisions of enormous objects can occur on an almost unimaginable scale. Entire galaxies can collide, with two galaxies merging into one object and producing a storm of star formation as clouds of dust and debris from each galaxy are shoved together and fuel the birth of new stars.

One such galaxy merger has been captured by the Hubble Space Telescope, which snapped this image of the galaxy merger CGCG 396-2. Located 520 million light-years from Earth in the Orion constellation, the two galaxies have become so enmeshed they are considered one object, of an unusual type called a multi-armed galaxy merger.

This NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope observation has captured the galaxy CGCG 396-2, an unusual multi-armed galaxy merger which lies around 520 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Orion.
This NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope observation has captured the galaxy CGCG 396-2, an unusual multi-armed galaxy merger that lies around 520 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Orion. ESA/Hubble & NASA, W. Keel

This merger was originally spotted by volunteers using the Galaxy Zoo citizen science project. Members of the public were invited to help comb through Hubble data and classify different types of galaxies that could be seen in the images, to create a catalog of galaxy types.

“The Galaxy Zoo project originated when an astronomer was set an impossibly mind-numbing task; classifying more than 900,000 galaxies by eye,” the European Space Agency writes. “By making a web interface and inviting citizen scientists to contribute to the challenge, the Galaxy Zoo team was able to crowdsource the analysis, and within six months a legion of 100,000 volunteer citizen astronomers had contributed more than 40 million galaxy classifications.”

Since the project began in 2007, it has expanded to include galaxy mergers as well as different types of objects like supernovae. It has also resulted in contributions to more than 100 scientific journal articles and inspired other citizen science programs which also run on the Zooniverse platform.

Once many galaxies had been classified, a public vote was held to decide which of these objects should be observed in further depth, and CGCG 396-2 was a winner. It was imaged by the Advanced Camera for Surveys instrument on Hubble to create the image you see above.

Editors' Recommendations

Georgina Torbet
Georgina is the Digital Trends space writer, covering human space exploration, planetary science, and cosmology. She…
Hubble captures a messy irregular galaxy which hosted a supernova
The irregular spiral galaxy NGC 5486 hangs against a background of dim, distant galaxies in this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. The tenuous disk of the galaxy is threaded through with pink wisps of star formation, which stand out from the diffuse glow of the galaxy’s bright core.

This week's image from the Hubble Space Telescope shows a dramatic spiral galaxy called NGC 5486, which is shot through with wisps of pink showing regions where new stars are being born.

Located 110 million light-years away in the famous constellation of Ursa Major, this galaxy is a type called an irregular spiral galaxy because its arms are wandering and indistinct. If you compare the image of this galaxy to one of a quintessential spiral galaxy like NGC 2336, you'll see that a non-irregular spiral galaxy has clearly defined arms that reach out from its center and are symmetrical.

Read more
Hubble captures a cosmic sea monster with this image of a jellyfish galaxy
A jellyfish galaxy with trailing tentacles of stars hangs in inky blackness in this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. As Jellyfish galaxies move through intergalactic space they are slowly stripped of gas, which trails behind the galaxy in tendrils illuminated by clumps of star formation. These blue tendrils are visible drifting below the core of this galaxy, and give it its jellyfish-like appearance. This particular jellyfish galaxy — known as JO201 — lies in the constellation Cetus, which is named after a sea monster from ancient Greek mythology. This sea-monster-themed constellation adds to the nautical theme of this image.

This week's image from the Hubble Space Telescope shows a special and delightful cosmic object: a jellyfish galaxy. These galaxies are named for their larger main body with tendrils that float along after them, like the sea creatures.

This particular jellyfish galaxy is called JO201, and is located in the constellation of Cetus. Appropriately for the sea theme, Cetus is a constellation named after a Greek mythological sea monster that sometimes had the body of a whale or serpent along with the head of a boar. In the image, you can see the main body of the galaxy in the center, with the trailing tendrils spreading down toward the bottom of the frame.

Read more
Roman Space Telescope will survey the sky 1,000 times faster than Hubble
NASA’s Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope

Since its launch in 2021, the James Webb Space Telescope has been delighting space fans with its stunning views of space objects near and far. But NASA has another space telescope in the works that will be able to help answer even more of the big questions in astronomy. The Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope, set to launch in 2027 and colloquially known as Roman, will look at vast areas of space to help cosmologists understand the universe on a large scale.

In astronomy research, it's important to be able to look both in very great detail and on a very wide scale. Telescopes like Hubble and James Webb have exceptional sensitivity, so they can look at extremely distant objects. Roman will be different, aiming to get a broad view of the sky. The image below illustrates the differences between the telescopes, showing what Roman and Hubble can capture in one go and comparing Hubble's detailed, but narrow view to Roman's much wider view.

Read more