Galaxy gazing with The Eyes

Galaxies NGC 4438 and NGC 4435

A peculiar pair of galaxies, NGC 4438 and NGC 4435, nicknamed The Eyes. The larger of the two, NGC 4438 (top) is thought to have once been a spiral galaxy that was strongly deformed by collisions with other galaxies in the relatively recent past. The two galaxies belong to the Virgo Cluster and are about 50 million light-years away.

  • The Eyes are two galaxies, NGC 4435 and 4438
  • Located 50 million light-years from Earth
  • Probably involved in a collision 100 million years ago

THIS BEAUTIFUL YET PECULIAR pair of galaxies is nicknamed ‘The Eyes’ and is about 50 million light-years from Earth, with the two galaxies some 100,000 light-years apart.

Their nickname comes from the apparent similarity between their cores—two white ovals that resemble a pair of eyes glowing in the dark when seen through a moderate-sized backyard telescope.

But although the centres of these two galaxies look similar, their outskirts could not be more different.

The galaxy in the lower right, known as NGC 4435, is compact and seems to be almost devoid of gas and dust.

In contrast, the large galaxy in the upper left (NGC 4438) has a lane of obscuring dust just below its core, young stars can be seen left of its centre, and gas extends at least up to the edges of the image.

The contents of NGC 4438 have been stripped out by a violent process—a collision with another galaxy that has distorted its spiral shape.

NGC 4435 could be the culprit. Some astronomers think that the damage caused to NGC 4438 resulted from an approach between the two galaxies to within about 16,000 light-years some 100 million years ago.

But while the larger galaxy was damaged, the smaller one was significantly more affected. Gravitational ‘tides’ from the clash are probably responsible for ripping away the contents of NGC 4438, and for removing most of NGC 4435’s gas and dust.

Another possibility is that the giant elliptical galaxy Messier 86, further away from The Eyes and not visible in this image, was responsible for the damage caused to NGC 4438. Recent observations have found filaments of ionised hydrogen gas connecting the two large galaxies, indicating that they may have collided in the past.

Messier 86 and The Eyes belong to the Virgo Cluster, a very rich grouping of galaxies. In such close quarters, galaxy collisions are fairly frequent.

Download wallpapers of The Eyes galaxies (NGC 4438 and NGC 4435):

1024 x 768 (268.4 KB)

1280 x 1024 (510.6 KB)

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Adapted from information issued by ESO / Gems project.

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