More than a billion light years away from Earth, two galaxies are locked in a slow-motion collision, throwing countless stars out of whack and whirling about the void of deep space.
This week, NASA shared a new album of images recently taken by the Hubble spacecraft—one of which captures this slow galactic collision, Christine Lunsford reports for Space.com. Known as IRAS 14348-1447, this whirling object appears to be just a glittery smudge of star stuff.
“This doomed duo approached one another too closely in the past, gravity causing them to affect and tug at each other and slowly, destructively, merge into one,” NASA says in a statement.
The two galaxies forming IRAS 14348-1447 are packed with gas, meaning that it has plenty of fuel to feed the massive emissions radiating from the event—enough to qualify it as an ultraluminous infrared galaxy, Brooks Hays reports for United Press International. In fact, nearly 95 percent of the energy emitted is in the far-IR range, Hays reports. The energy released by these gases also contributes to the object’s swirling appearance, as wisps of gas spiral out from the collision’s epicenter.
“It is one of the most gas-rich examples known of an ultraluminous infrared galaxy, a class of cosmic objects that shine characteristically—and incredibly—brightly in the infrared part of the spectrum,” NASA says in a statement.
While witnessing two galaxies collide in such great detail is a fascinating sight, it’s not a rarity in the cosmos. Galaxies collide all the time, with larger ones consuming smaller ones and incorporating new stars into their makeup. While galaxies are often destroyed in the process, these collisions can also fuel the creation of new stars, though that comes at a cost of depleting gas reserves, Matt Williams reports for Universe Today. In fact, this is the same fate our own Milky Way will face billions of years from now, when it eventually collides with the ever-nearing Andromeda Galaxy.
These collisions are dramatic, but it’s unlikely that individual stars are smashing together. Though galaxies may look solid from afar, stars, planets and other matter is so distantly distributed within them that they more often than not simply glide past each other, Williams reports. But even from this distance, the drama of watching two galaxies collide is undeniable.