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Hubble spots three galaxies pulled into an unusual shape

This week’s image from the Hubble Space Telescope shows a group of three galaxies that are so close together that they have been given one collective name: NGC 7764A. When galaxies come close together, they can interact as their gravity affects one another, leading to them being pulled into different shapes or even, in extreme cases, merging together or destroying one of the galaxies.

“The two galaxies in the upper right of the image appear to be interacting with one another,” the Hubble scientists explained in a statement. “The long trails of stars and gas extending from them give the impression that they have both just been struck at great speed, thrown into disarray by the bowling-ball-shaped galaxy to the lower left of the image. In reality, interactions between galaxies happen over very long time periods, and galaxies rarely collide head-on with one another. It is also unclear whether the galaxy to the lower left is interacting with the other two, although they are so relatively close in space that it seems possible that they are.”

A group of three galaxies, collectively known as NGC 7764A, imaged by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.
The subject of this image is a group of three galaxies, collectively known as NGC 7764A. They were imaged by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, using both its Advanced Camera for Surveys and Wide Field Camera 3. ESA/Hubble & NASA, J. Dalcanton, Dark Energy Survey, U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Fermilab (FNAL), Dark Energy Survey Camera (DECam), Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO), NoirLab/National Science Foundation/AURA, European Southern Observatory (ESO); Acknowledgment: J. Schmidt

There’s also a fun fact about this particular collection of galaxies that will appeal to sci-fi fans. As the Hubble scientists write, “By happy coincidence, the collective interaction between these galaxies has caused the two on the upper right to form a shape, which from our solar system’s perspective, resembles the starship known as the USS Enterprise from Star Trek!”

This isn’t the first time an enterprising viewer has spotted a Star Trek-related shape in outer shape. A few years ago the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), an orbiter that takes pictures of the martian surface, spotted a delightfully shaped sand dune using its High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera which was shaped like the iconic Starfleet insignia.

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