Three distant galaxies collide through the universe, in a stunning new image captured by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.
This cosmic collapse is known as a trigalactic merger, when three galaxies slowly come close to each other and rip each other apart with competing gravitational forces. Mergers like this are common throughout the universe, and all large galaxies – including our own, galaxies Milky Way They owe their scale to violent mergers like these.
Chaotic as it sounds, mergers like these are more about creation than destruction. When gas from the three neighboring galaxies collides and condenses, a vast sea of material from which new stars will emerge is collected at the center of the newly united galaxy.
In the meantime, the existing stars will mostly survive the collapse unscathed; While the tug-of-war between the three galaxies will distort the orbital trajectories of many of the stars in existence, there is plenty of space between those stars that relatively few of them are likely to collide, Live Science previously reported.
The group of galaxies shown above is called IC 2431, and it is located about 681 million light years From Earth in Cancer, According to NASA. Astronomers discovered the merger thanks to a citizen science project called Galaxy Zoo, which invited more than 100,000 volunteers to classify images of 900,000 galaxies captured by the Hubble telescope that had not been thoroughly examined. The crowdsourcing project accomplished in 175 days what would have taken astronomers years to achieve, according to NASA, and the initiative has already yielded a number of strange and exciting discoveries, like this one.
Studying galaxy mergers can help astronomers better understand the past and future of the Milky Way. The Milky Way is believed to have devoured more than a dozen galaxies over the past 12 billion years, including during the sausage merging process known as Gaia, Live Science previously reported.
Meanwhile, our galaxy looks set to merge with the nearby Andromeda galaxy about 4.5 billion years from now. The merger will completely change the night sky Land But it could potentially leave the solar system unharmed, according to NASA.
Originally published on Live Science.