New Hubble Telescope Photo Shows a Distorted Galaxy From the Hydra-Centaurus Supercluster
While we don't have to worry about our own Milky Way galaxy crashing into the nearby Andromeda galaxy for another few billion years, we can have an idea of how that will look based on other intergalactic crashes. A new photo released by NASA and ESA (who co-manages Hubble) shows the galaxy NGC 3256, which is about the same size as the Milky Way, but contains some remarkable differences.
Namely, the galaxy was formed by two galaxies slamming into each other a long time ago, and you can still see the battle scars in the resulting fusion that is NGC 3256. See it below:
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: https://t.co/Qpg7KNnhMq pic.twitter.com/tbZEvOMBTJ— Hubble (@NASAHubble) May 31, 2018
NGC 3256 can be found in the middle of the constellation Vela (which resembles a ship's sails), and is 100 million lightyears away inside a supercluster of galaxies called the Virgo-Centaurus Supercluster. Despite its distance, it remains a fascinating galaxy for astronomers, and this isn't the first time it's been examined.
That's because it's one of the most luminous known galaxies, at least in the infrared part of the spectrum, making it extremely bright when viewed through the right infrared filters. And it's especially bright toward the center, where tons of new stars are being born inside the mass of dust and stellar materials, which makes a NGC 3256 a "starburst galaxy".
These star clusters extend out into the many tidal tails, although some of those stars are likely older and existed in the previous galaxies which collided there about 500 million years ago. Those two original galaxies seem to have been of equal masses based on the distorted shape of NGC 3256, and the collision isn't technically over - the new galaxy's shape is still changing, and will eventually morph into a more standard elliptical galaxy.
But for now, it's a great way for astronomers to examine collisions and star clusters, and it helps a lot that the galaxy's disc is facing directly toward Hubble. We can take some great photos of it that way.