“Tinkerbell” in Southern Skies


Astronomers at a southern hemisphere telescope spotted this three-way collision of galaxies late last year, 650 million light years away. They nicknamed it the "Cosmic Bird," though later observers pointed out a striking resemblance to a certain fairy famous for helping a band of boys defeat a hook-handed pirate.

As is all too common with fairies, this Tinkerbell is making a fleeting appearance as the galaxies whiz past each other at about 870,000 miles per hour. But intense gravitational interactions in Tinkerbell's "head" are forming new stars at a rate of about 200 solar masses per year — leaving sort of a trail of fairy dust.

The discovery was made at the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope array, a group of four telescopes in the Andes of northern Chile. A report will be formally published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

(European Southern Observatory)

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