Hubble Captures Images of Galaxies that Have Been Merging for Hundreds of Millions of Years
Today, the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope captured breathtaking images of a galaxy being slowly pulled apart while it merges with another galaxy:
In these images, spiral galaxy NGC 7714 has drifted too close to another galaxy, NGC 7715, causing it to become "bent out of shape." (The images only depict NGC 7714, as NGC7715 is just out of frame.) Material from the galaxy streams into space until its appearance became distorted, and a burst of prolific star formation causes the increased brightness in the center of the galaxy. As NGC 7714 is the larger galaxy, it creates a pipeline to the smaller galaxy with a ring and two tails of stars, and material from the smaller galaxy funnels through this pipeline, fueling the bursts of star formation. ESA estimates that this violent merger began approximately 100-200 million years ago.
This destructive merger may actually occur within our own galaxy, as the Milky Way is predicted by NASA to collide with Andromeda in 3.75 billion years. In spite of the dramatic appearance of the photographs, this will likely have no effect on our solar system, as the planets and Sun would be unaffected. Most likely, the solar system would either move farther away from the galactic core, or be ejected from the galaxy completely.
Here is a NASA animation of the Milky Way/Andromeda merger: