To commemorate the Hubble Space Telescope’s 19 years in space, the ESA and NASA have released an image of a celestial celebration.
Two members in this trio of galaxies are apparently engaged in a gravitational tug-o-war, giving rise to a bright streamer of newborn blue stars that stretches 100,000 light years across.
Resembling a pair of owl’s eyes, the two nuclei of the colliding galaxies can be seen in the process of merging at the upper left. The bizarre blue bridge of material extending out from the northern component looks as if it connects to a third galaxy but in reality this galaxy is in the background, and not connected at all.
Hubble’s sharp view allows astronomers to try and sort out visually which are the foreground and background objects when galaxies, superficially, appear to overlap.
The blue “fountain” is the most striking feature of this galaxy troupe and it contains complexes of super star clusters that may have as many as dozens of individual young star clusters in them. It formed as a result of the interactions among the galaxies in the northern component of Arp 194. The gravitational forces involved in a galaxy interaction can enhance the star formation rate and give rise to brilliant bursts of star formation in merging systems.
The stream of material lies in front of the southern component of Arp 194, as shown by the dust that is silhouetted around the star cluster complexes.
The details of the interactions among the multiple galaxies that make up Arp 194 are complex. The system was most likely disrupted by a previous collision or close encounter. The shapes of all the galaxies involved have been distorted by their gravitational interactions with one another.
Arp 194, located in the constellation of Cepheus, resides approximately 600 million light-years away from Earth. Arp 194 is one of thousands of interacting and merging galaxies known in our nearby Universe.
The observations were taken in January 2009 with the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2. Blue, green and red filters were composited together to form the galaxy interaction image.
This picture was issued to celebrate the 19th anniversary of the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1990. In the past 19 years, Hubble has made more than 880,000 observations and snapped over 570,000 images of 29,000 celestial objects.
Image credit: NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)