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Cosmic collision

The Antennae galaxies

This is what happens when two huge galaxies collide in deep space. The Antennae galaxies, so-called because of their long tails of stars and gas formed by tidal forces, are 62 million light-years from Earth.

A beautiful new image of two colliding galaxies has been composed using data taken by NASA’s three Great Observatory space telescopes.

The Antennae galaxies, located about 62 million light-years from Earth, are shown in this composite image made from data from the Chandra X-ray Observatory, the Hubble Space Telescope and the Spitzer Space Telescope.

The Antennae galaxies take their name from the long antenna-like “arms,” seen in wide-angle views of the system. These features were produced by tidal forces generated in the collision.

The collision, which began more than 100 million years ago and is still occurring, has triggered the formation of millions of stars in clouds of dust and gas in the galaxies. The most massive of these young stars have already sped through their evolution in a few million years and exploded as supernovae.

The X-ray data (blue colours) from Chandra shows huge clouds of hot, interstellar gas that have been injected with rich deposits of elements from supernova explosions. This enriched gas, which includes elements such as oxygen, iron, magnesium, and silicon, will be incorporated into new generations of stars and planets.

The bright, point-like sources in the image are produced by material falling onto black holes and neutron stars that are remnants of the massive stars. Some of these black holes may have masses that are almost one hundred times that of the Sun.

The Spitzer data (red colours) show infrared light from warm dust clouds that have been heated by newborn stars, with the brightest clouds lying in the overlapping region between the two galaxies.

The Hubble data (gold and brown colours) reveal old stars and star-forming regions in gold and white, while filaments of dust appear in brown. Many of the fainter objects in the optical image are clusters containing thousands of stars.

See the full-size, high-resolution image here (new window).

Adapted from information issued by NASA / ESA / SAO / CXC / JPL-Caltech / STScI / J. DePasquale (Harvard-Smithsonian CfA) / B. Whitmore (STScI).

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