(ORDO NEWS) — We’ve already covered some truly stunning deep space images on ScienceAlert, but Hubble’s new image showing a special collection of five galaxies has to be one of the best – even by our high standards.
The group of galaxies is called the Hickson Compact Group 40, and they are unusually close to each other at the point in space and time that is captured in the image. In about a billion years, they will all collide together and form a giant elliptical galaxy.
Here are three spiral galaxies (with orange dust clouds), an elliptical galaxy (closer to the top, where light from billions of stars is visible) and a lenticular galaxy (lower right).
Although dense groups of galaxies are not uncommon, they tend to be at the center of much larger clusters.
The peculiarity of this unusually dense cluster of galaxies, located somewhere in the direction of the constellation Hydra, is that it is not part of a large cluster. Many other galaxies can be seen in the background of the image, which appear fainter against the background of space.
Astronomers have observed the compact Hickson Group 40 in different spectra of light, and X-rays have shown that galaxies exert a gravitational pull on each other due to the presence of huge amounts of hot gas in the space between them.
This will eventually lead to their merger, and scientists believe that dark matter may play a role in this, forming a cloud around a group of galaxies and slowing down the movement of individual galaxies. Having lost energy, they fall together, as shown in this picture.
Studying such densely packed groups – all five galaxies in this image would fit inside two Milky Ways – helps astronomers understand where, when and how galaxies form.
“I remember seeing it while surveying the sky and saying, ‘Wow, look at that!'” says astronomer Paul Hickson of the University of British Columbia in Canada, who rediscovered the group in 1982.
“All I used at the time was a big plastic ruler and a magnifying glass when I looked at sky prints.”
The Hubble Space Telescope has given us a much clearer view of space than it did in 1982, and this image was released to celebrate the telescope’s 32nd year of operation – it was launched into orbit on April 25, 1990.
Since then, the telescope has taken about 1.5 million images of about 50,000 celestial objects, all of which are stored in the public domain. In the coming years, we can expect more amazing images from Hubble.
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