(ORDO NEWS) — Two galaxies locked together in an intricate gravitational dance created a beautiful illusion in the depths of space.
Captured in a new Hubble photograph, their interaction formed an almost symmetrical shape that gave the pair the nickname “Angel Wing”. Upon closer inspection, the object bears an eerie resemblance to the disturbing six-winged seraphim of ancient Jewish lore.
The galaxy pair’s official name is VV689, or MCG+03-26-016, and together they provide an elegant example of one of the most colossal events in the universe, the galactic merger.
Galactic mergers occur when galaxies are gravitationally attracted to each other across the chasms of spacetime in an increasingly tight orbital dance before coalescing into one large galaxy.
Surprisingly few objects collide with each other during these events; galaxies are mostly empty space by volume. However, gravitational interactions can create shocks in the surrounding star-forming gas, causing star formation waves to sweep through each of the galaxies as they merge.
These mergers are believed to be a vital aspect of galactic growth and evolution. Not only could this process revive star formation in relatively quiescent galaxies, but it could also play a role in the expansion of supermassive black holes to even more epic proportions.
Being at the center of every galaxy, these behemoth black holes are somewhat puzzling; Merging with other supermassive black holes could be one way to get them to incredible sizes.
The Milky Way has experienced many collisions in its past. By identifying other galaxies undergoing a merger, astronomers can gain insight into how this happens, helping us understand the evolution of our own galaxy and the amazing cosmos around us.
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