(ORDO NEWS) — An impressive new image taken by the Gemini North telescope in Hawaii shows a pair of interacting spiral galaxies NGC 4568 and NGC 4567 during the merger process.
These galaxies will eventually merge into a single elliptical galaxy in about 500 million years. Also visible in the image are the glowing remnants of a supernova discovered in 2020.
Gemini North, one of the twin telescopes of the Gemini International Observatory operated by NSF’s NOIRLab, observed the initial stages of a cosmic collision between two galaxies about 60 million light-years away in the direction of the constellation Virgo.
Two majestic spiral galaxies, NGC 4568 (below) and NGC 4567 (above), are about to experience one of the most exciting events in the universe – a galactic merger.
At present, the centers of these galaxies are still 20,000 light-years apart (roughly the distance from Earth to the center of the Milky Way).
As NGC 4568 and NGC 4567 approach and merge, their gravitational forces not only cause bursts of intense star formation, but also distort the structures of these galaxies.
Over millions of years, galaxies will constantly revolve around each other, forming increasingly narrowing loops, pulling out long ribbons of stars and gas, and then merge into a single spherical galaxy.
By this point, most of the gas and dust (fuel for star formation) in this system will have been used up or blown away by the wind.
This merger is also an example of what will happen when the Milky Way and the Andromeda Galaxy collide in about 5 billion years.
The bright region at the center of one of NGC 4568’s broad spiral arms is the fading afterglow of a supernova known as SN 2020fqv, which was discovered in 2020.
By combining decades of observations and computer simulations, astronomers have now found compelling evidence that merging spiral galaxies like this one become elliptical galaxies.
It is likely that NGC 4568 and NGC 4567 will eventually resemble their more mature neighbor Messier 89, an elliptical galaxy that also resides in the Virgo Cluster.
Due to a lack of star-forming gas, Messier 89 currently exhibits minimal star formation and consists mainly of older low-mass stars and ancient globular clusters.
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