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Is this galaxy exploding? Although that’s what it might look like, this is actually two gigantic galaxies crashing into each other. NGC 520 — also known as Arp 157 — is a mashup of two huge galaxies, now combining into one. We can’t really watch the process, as it happens extremely slowly — over millions of years, and the whole process started about 300 million years ago. Apr 157 is about 100,000 light-years across and is now in the middle stage of the merging process, as the two nuclei haven’t come together yet, but the two discs have. The merger features a tail of stars and a prominent dust lane. NGC 520 is one of the brightest interacting galaxies in the sky and lies in the direction of Pisces (the Fish), approximately 100 million light-years from Earth.
This image was taken by the ESO Faint Object Spectrograph and Camera attached to the 3.6-metre telescope at La Silla in Chile.
You’d need about a 4-inch telescope to see this 12th magnitude object yourself. Here’s the location: RA: 1h 24m 35.1s, Declination: +03° 47? 33?. Or put in those coordinates in Google Sky to see it there.