Hubble Spots A Spooky ‘Ghost Face’ Shaped By Two Colliding Galaxies

Image of a 'ghost face' captured by NASA's Hubble telescope in the deep cosmos.
NASA, ESA, and J. Dalcanton, B.F. Williams, and M. Durbin (University of Washington)

A ghostly face is staring into the cosmos with piercing eyes in the latest photo captured by the Hubble Space Telescope. Unveiled by NASA earlier this week, the haunting apparition owes its chilling, peculiar look to a pair of twin galaxies, found in the throes of a violent smash-up. Locked in an epic, head-on collision, the two galaxies mysteriously resemble “an uncanny pair of glowing eyes,” which seemingly “glares menacingly in our direction.”

The massive structures are encompassed in a shroud of gas, dust, and stars, emerging as a bizarre formation that oddly looks like a creepy face — one that appears to belong to “an otherworldly creature” lurking in the deep reaches of the cosmos.

“Each ‘eye’ is the bright core of a galaxy, one of which slammed into another. The outline of the face is a ring of young blue stars. Other clumps of new stars form a nose and mouth,” NASA detailed in the photo release, shared on the agency’s website on Monday as a Halloween treat for space enthusiasts.

According to NASA, the eerie Hubble photo was taken earlier this year, on June 19, while the venerable telescope scoured the deep cosmos in search of captivating views of the universe. The snapshot portrays a couple of twin galaxies known as the Arp-Madore 2026-424 system — AM 2026-424, for short — captured in visible light by Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys. The strange-looking system lies far out in deep space, stretching some 704 million light-years from Earth. Fittingly, the system is also listed in the Arp-Madore “Catalogue of Southern Peculiar Galaxies and Associations” — a survey of several thousand unusual-looking interacting galaxies published in 1987.

The fascination with the curious pair of galaxies goes beyond their ghastly appearance. As NASA explains, the AM 2026-424 system is quite unique for a number of reasons. Although colliding galaxies are a common occurrence in the cosmos, in most cases the event entails a larger galaxy smashing into a smaller neighbor — and gobbling it up in a violent merger. However, in the case of AM 2026-424, two similarly-sized galaxies have crashed into one another and are currently on the verge of fusing together into a single large galaxy.

“Because the bulges that make the eyes appear to be the same size, it is evidence that two galaxies of nearly equal proportions were involved in the crash,” states NASA.

Equally noteworthy is the fact that the AM 2026-424 twin galaxies are experiencing a head-on collision, which is rarely seen in galactic mergers. Last but not least, the event has created a ring-like structure around the two galaxies — a rare occurrence, found only in a few hundred cases in the larger cosmic neighborhood of the Milky Way.

“The galaxies have to collide at just the right orientation to create the ring,” explains NASA, adding that the structure is typically short-lived.

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Interestingly enough, it is precisely this ephemeral ring that has given the two galaxies their distinctive look, making them appear like the glaring eyes of a ghostly visage.

“The crash pulled and stretched the galaxies’ disks of gas, dust, and stars outward. This action formed the ring of intense star formation that shapes the nose and face,” notes NASA.

The creepy “ghost face” won’t be staring out from the depths of the cosmos for long. The ring structure that outlines the ghoulish apparition will only last for about 100 million years, after which it will dissipate. At the same time, the two galaxies will completely mash with one another in about 1 billion to 2 billion years, leaving no trace of the glaring “eyes” spotted by Hubble.