The iconic Hubble Space Telescope recently snapped a photo of three starry galaxies that appear as if they are interacting with each other. In the picture's upper right corner, two of the galaxies slightly resemble the outline of Star Trek’s U.S.S. Enterprise.
Since Hubble was launched in 1990, it has been estimating the number of star systems hidden in the vastness of space. In 1995, the telescope took the iconic Hubble Deep Field image, revealing 3,000 faint galaxies in a single frame. At the time, it was the farthest anyone had ever seen into the universe, report Space.com’s Elizabeth Howell and Ailsa Harvey. With various updates over the years, the telescope continues to astonish astronomers.
The recently imaged celestial bodies are known as NGC 7764A and reside in the Phoenix constellation 425 million light-years away from Earth, reports Ed Browne for Newsweek. Individually, the three galaxies in the image are known as NGC 7764A1, NGC 7764A2, and NGC 7764A3.
Two galaxies in the upper right of the image appear hazy, with streams of stars almost reaching toward each other—almost as if the galaxy in the lower left zipped through like a bowling ball at incredible speeds, creating the hazy lines and clusters of stars, per a NASA statement. However, galaxies usually do not crash head-on and if they ever did collide, it would happen slowly, over billions of years from start to finish. Despite its proximity, the galaxy in the lower left may not interact with the other two galaxies.
The picture of the trio was taken using the telescope’s Advanced Camera for Surveys and its Wide Field Camera 3, Mashable's Alison Foreman reports.
Hubble has captured numerous mesmerizing images of galaxies. In 2021, the telescope captured another dramatic trio of galaxies dubbed Arp 195 in what appeared almost like a gravitational tug of war, Newsweek reports. The galaxies look like they are pulling each other into a warped versions of their usual cosmic-pinwheel structures.
Although the three galaxies are the main subjects in Hubble’s picture, the background is flecked with more distant clusters.
The universe—which is still expanding—has about 100 billion twinkling galaxies. As telescope technology advances, the total is expected to grow to about 200 billion, Space.com reports.