Some 500 million years ago, two spiral galaxies smashed into each other, giving birth to a new galaxy about the size of the Milky Way. The newborn galaxy, dubbed NGC 3256, is a very interesting place, notes the Hubble Space Telescope, which yesterday released a multi-filter image of the spectacular galaxy merger.
The new photo, unveiled 10 years after the galaxy was first imaged by Hubble, was captured by the telescope’s Wide Field Camera 3 and its Advanced Camera for Surveys.
The NGC 3256 galaxy is shining brightly in the Vela (The Sails) constellation roughly 100 million light-years away from our planet. Part of the Hydra-Centaurus Supercluster, the newly-formed galaxy is 100,000 light-years wide and is a veritable stellar nursery, housing more than 1,000 bright star clusters filled with infant stars.
Imaged at the center of the galaxy, the blazing stellar bloom reveals that NGC 3256 is a powerful starburst galaxy. But, unlike other galaxies of its kind, NGC 3256 has a “peculiar” appearance, Hubble officials state in the photo description.
The brutal collision of the two spiral galaxies has left NGC 3256 looking distorted. The shredded outskirts of the newborn galaxy form tidal tails “studded with young blue stars, which were born in the frantic but fertile collision of gas and dust,” the Hubble team wrote in the news release.
“Though it resembles a peaceful rose swirling in the darkness of the cosmos, NGC 3256 is actually the site of a violent clash. This distorted galaxy is the relic of a collision between two spiral galaxies, estimated to have occurred 500 million years ago. Today it is still reeling in the aftermath of this event.”
Because of its violent origin, NGC 3256 is seen as “an ideal target” for the study of new stars forged from the cosmic collision of galaxies. Originally photographed in 2008, the galaxy is still studied by astronomers looking to solve the puzzle of how galaxy mergers trigger starburst.
The main thing that scientists hope this unusual galaxy will unravel are “the properties of young star clusters in tidal tails,” shows the Hubble news release.
As NASA explained when the original photo of NGC 3256 was released, individual stars seldom collide during a galactic merger. But the galaxies’ magnetic fields and their interstellar clouds of gas and dust do blend together, and the results are breathtaking.
This glorious phenomenon can be spotted at the heart of the NGC 3256 galaxy, where the two nuclei from the colliding galaxies are still visible within a large disk of molecular gas, traversed by a hypnotizing dance of dark dust threads.
These two nuclei are expected to collide themselves sometime in the next few hundred million years and merge into a large elliptical galaxy.
For now, the new photo of the NGC 3256 galaxy bears testament to the fact that destruction gives rise to creation and that everything morphs into something else.
The original Hubble photo of NGC 3256 was taken with fewer filters and released on April 24, 2008, on the occasion of the telescope’s 18th anniversary.